Review by Stephen May
Addison/Ripley Fine Art, Washington, D.C.
Still going strong at 86, Wolf Kahn continues to work from nature, intent on representing its universal elements while imbuing his canvases with a specific sense of place. While repeatedly depicting familiar New England landscapes—verdant fields and forests, serene horizons, and sturdy houses and barns nestled among rolling hills—Kahn handles each subject with an appealing spontaneity that keeps every composition fresh. This show brought together 30 oil paintings and pastels, most of them created during the last few years, all of which proved that the German-born American painter has lost none of his flair for intuitive, sensual color.
Kahn’s unconventional use of color often involves brilliant hues that appear to result from rays of sun filtering through stands of spindly trees. In Long Yellow and Silvery Gray (both 2013), chalky trees contrast with a light-suffused, yellow-green setting. Wooded Slice of Nature (2011) features purplish trees set against a verdant backdrop of greenery dappled by sunny patches beneath a grayish sky. In each canvas, the eclectic color combinations and luminous light capture the essence of the landscape, drawing viewers into a world that is both recognizable and ethereal.
The exhibition’s showstopper, Orange Hillside (2012), is dominated by a glorious cluster of tree. Measuring 30 by 42 inches and compositionally divided into vibrant strata—bright green for the field behind the trees, dark green for distant forests, gray for background mountains, and whale-blue for the sky—the painting offers a sense of openness and space, while the colorful bands call to mind Mark Rothko. Ultimately, Kahn’s singular use of color in these radiant, mirage-like depictions of nature and man-made structures confirms his place at the forefront of American representational art—and as one of the best colorists working today.