Inspired Lives: Artist Wolf Kahn

Jul 25, 2012

Wolf Kahn was born in Stuttgart, Germany  in 1927 and came to the United States when he was 12-years-old. He later served in the Navy during WWII, and in 1946, under the GI Bill, Kahn attended the Hans Hofmann School, studying under and becoming a studio assistant for Hans Hofmann. Later, Kahn graduated from the University of Chicago. His work in oil paint and pastel mediums share his signature vibrant style. He spends his time in both New York City and West Brattleboro, Vermont. Kahn's wife Emily Mason is also an artist.


"I always try to get my painting to the point where the painting speaks to me rather than me speaking to the painting. And I have a feeling that at that point you get in touch with things that are truly interesting and truly mean something because you are beyond convention."

WOLF KAHN: In my own work, I was still holding onto sort of Van Gogh-y kind of involvement.  But then, living in Venice and looking out at the Marittima, the big body of water with the tour boats coming up, it affected me and changed my whole style, my whole way of getting involved in art.  And I ended up painting mostly all white paintings because I thought the light of Venice was sort of milky.  I mean, it ended up being milky and white for me.  The way I was painting then, which was all in grays and whites, was so difficult that it took some of the joy out of doing it.

Then one summer we went to Maine and we lived on the southwest harbor of Deer Isle.  In the evening I looked right into the sunset, down this cove, into a sunset.  And the idea of painting that in all gray would have been unnatural, so I started becoming involved in color again.

What I really believe in is the eye.  Get the mind sort of out of the way and trust that the eye will do things far more comprehensibly and more interestingly, certainly, than what you can think about.  So I always try to get my painting to the point where the painting speaks to me, rather than me speaking to the painting.  I have a feeling at that point, you get in touch with things that are truly interesting and truly mean something, because you’re beyond convention.  I try to get beyond intention, because I want to be able to see what the picture needs, rather than to start thinking about it.  You try and get beyond where you’ve been, because to do over again what you’ve done before – I mean, if you’re a scientist that would be a sin.  You don’t do experiments over again that other people have already done.

As a painter, I think you shouldn’t expose the public to things they already know, almost as an obligation.  You have to take them beyond where things are easily explained.   I think of myself as a very conventional person, very ordinary person, but I do believe that one of the obligations of an artist is to go toward transcendence, and that seems valuable to me. That’s good enough for me to keep going.