Review / Informed Opinions

June Issue 1999
Wolf Kahn: Southern Landscapes and Stephen Scott Young: Etchings
Jerald Melberg Gallery - Charleston, May 8 - July 3, 1999
Forrest Moses: New Monotypes
Art Thomas Gallery - Charleston, May 7 - June 13, 1999
A Review
by Kristina Montvidas Kutkus
Wolf Kahn, a nationally acclaimed artist, took a working trip to rural Georgia and South Carolina a year ago. In collaboration with Jerald Melberg, Kahn was invited to the Augusta, GA area by the Morris Museum of Art for a commissioned painting. In the hopes that the artist would find scenes of inspiration in the South, Kahn was taken to various locations and found himself returning to a subject that he had abandoned some years earlier - barns in the landscape. It was the dignity, integrity and light refracting tin roofs of the buildings that inspired Wolf Kahn in these explorations that are now on view at Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charleston.

This exploratory visit shows the artist concentrating on architectural forms, in particular, a South Carolina cotton barn. Kahn has searched out every nuance of changing light on the tin roof - one whole gallery room is hung with variations of this one barn. Those who are familiar with Wolf Kahn's brilliant and surprising landscapes, (filled with lush color vibrations), will be startled by this exhibit. The color hasn't disappeared but has realigned itself into various aspects of the building: planes of walls meeting planes of rooflines, cast shadows and bright sunlit areas. This cotton barn at Beech Island is continually viewed from one perspective, filling the visual plane. There is one deviation from this format and that is the inclusion or exclusion of a large pecan tree which towers over the barn in a protective manner. At times, an echo of trailing green lines is all that remains of the pecan tree. In the final commissioned painting, the tree was left out.

The medium of the exploration of Cotton Barn at Beech Island, SC, ranges from oil on canvas to pastels and monotypes. The shadow angle of the barn's roofline, which meets a triangulating roof pitch, has a tendency to glare in the sunlight and thus allows the roof to disappear into the blue lavender sky. It is understandable that this phenomenon would be of perceptual interest to a painter, yet for it to sustain 12 images seemed to be a stretch. Nonetheless, the play of sunlit ochre and orange walls casting deep purple shadows is a colorists' delight.

The remaining southern views of Wolf Kahn's exhibit stayed with architectural sites but with a greater variance in the buildings' scale. A large peanut storage building, (Peanut Storage, Waynesboro (GA) 1998), floats serenely as sky blues interrupt the massive walls of the building. A stately wooden house, (Ezekiel Harris House), stands at the edge of a canal, dominating the landscape. Adjacent structures are sketchily indicated - not allowing them to divert attention from the house. In these drawings, the artist has often made two attempts at one site and this proves interesting on several levels. First, one can see the shifting focus from one aspect of the scene to another, be it a greater amount of foliage or more reflections, and second, it allows Kahn to vary his tonal key, his touch and his coloration while staying with a familiar form. This was particularly successful in the Salt Box Barn done in evening and morning light. One would almost guess that they were separate sites were it not for the constancy of the building.

These pastel drawings that capture the diverse views are loose and have no hesitation in piling a dozen colors in varying strokes to achieve a depth and variation that is pleasing to the eye. Kahn does not overwork his medium and allows the white paper to inform the light filled images, much as a watercolorist is known to do. Wolf Kahn has captured the rayed, burnt sky of southern landscapes. Spring skies are often tinted with lavender and a hint of orange. The occasional blue sky is played off against yellow green foliage. These are masterful works, executed with a sure, deft touch.

Stephen Scott Young, also exhibiting at Jerald Melberg Gallery, is an artist who deserves some mention. Residing in southern Florida and traveling extensively to the Bahamas, as well as Charleston, Young is represented by watercolors and etchings of young African American children and coastal scenes of shrimp boats and fishermen. The watercolors are reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth in their light and accurate touch. The graded tonalities of these paintings are enlivened with brilliant color accents. The etchings are noteworthy for their insights into their subject, be they a prepubescent girl with luminous eyes or boats serenely anchored at a dock. The drawing skills that underlie each image are remarkable and exude a sense of calm and balance.
Wolf Kahn and Stephen Scott Young are on view at Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charleston, through July 3.

The simplicity and insight of the following haiku by Basho (born 1644) is included to clear the mental congestion and to prepare one for the following review.
camellia - as it
falls, showers.
Wake, butterfly -
it's late, we've miles
to go together.
Spring air -
woven moon
and plum scent.
Translated from the Japanese by Lucien Stryk
It is wonderful to have Spoleto when it brings to Charleston the high caliber of work of artists like Wolf Kahn and Forrest Moses. One can anticipate aesthetic insight even when one stumbles into the gallery slightly dazed by the heat and glare of sunlight.

In the current exhibit of Forrest Moses' monotypes at Art Thomas Gallery, (on view through June 13), there are four large images of multiple irises and a dozen landscapes. The landscapes range from the familiar wooded scenes to near total abstractions.

In the iris images, an assured hand has placed the blooms on their tall stalks with an eye to the interrupting spaces. These negative spaces are activated by the occasional sword-leaf intrusions and still budding blooms. The range of opacity to translucency is remarkable and reveals the very essence of the flower depicted. Orange, purple and blue blooms drag some of their color into the muted green growths. One is allowed to see every flower in and of itself - due to the generous displacement on the paper.

The more familiar (to Charleston) landscapes are a tour de force of touch and color. Moses does not belabor his image yet fully develops the plate with additions and subtractions of pigment. A shifting focus is apparent in these landscapes. A meandering tree limb may be interrupted numerous times in its upward growth, and yet, the overall effect of forest and gathering density is maintained. Color shifts are subtle and there isn't a single pigment that appears to have arrived straight from the tube. Forrest Moses seems to be interested in both near and far, spatially, and manages to balance both distances in easy transitions. The focal plane of forms is muted so that it is often the color key which will signal which shape moves forward and which recedes. The sense of touch in the images is tentative, exploratory. Moses suggests rather than describes. This tendency is carried further in the smaller monotypes. In one untitled image a large hill is indicated by a wide band of black that is reached by an even wider band of orange. Some mixing and blending creates an intermediate passage.

The abstract prints are still informed by landscape. An image may be of a rocky crag, a solo tree, or several grasses. These compositions let the mind wander into its own spaces - suggestive yet not leading one by the hand. Still keeping the colors in close harmony, the abstractions allow one to dream a little.

Forrest Moses traveled extensively in the Far East during his years in service as a Naval officer. He has admitted to Japan's influence, both in its visual spaces and philosophy. I am inserting a description of Zen artists attitudes toward man and nature as it appears to have a bearing on Moses own search.
...they were also extremely fond of landscape paintings, and of birds and flowers, separated from human figures. According to the ideal of Zen artists, beauty or the true life of things is always hidden within rather than expressed outwardly. Realizing the limited power of any elaborate depiction in revealing the infinite life and power of nature, they tried not to display everything that may be seen, but rather to suggest the secret of infinity."

Therefore the work by great masters of this school (Muromachi Period 1334-1573) was not the depiction of nature, but the expression of their emotion about it. To them there seemed to be neither high nor low, neither noble nor refined. In a single flower or a spray of bamboo, they tried to see the eternal life that permeates through man and nature alike; and they strove to catch it with simple, bold strokes of the brush and with little color.

Handbook of Japanese Art by Noritake Tsuda.
Kristina Montvidas Kutkus, is an artist, writer, and critic living in Charleston.

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