During his decades as an artist, British painter Leon Kossoff (1926-2019) produced 510 known oil paintings. So to speak, because they have all been tracked and published in a recently published catalog magazine from Modern Art Press (London).
A catalog raisonné is a huge effort of research, detective work, devotion and awareness. This painting, assembled over eight years by a small team led by Andrea Rose, an English art historian and expert in painting, conveys the usual spectacular accumulation of information: the image of each painting, the history of the exhibition and its bibliography, and a list of its successors. (referred to as origin). An added benefit is the vibrancy of Rose’s annotations on the paintings, armed with impressive observations from storied art historians, curators and critics, artists, artists themselves and others. For example, one of Kossoff’s two small paintings is based on Titian’s terrifying “Apollo Flaying Marsyas,” accompanied by a profound appreciation by David Bowie, who once owned it.
The publication of the raisonné catalog is an important event, and Kossoff’s is being hosted by the exhibition “Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting”, a title shared by three small, carefully thought-out surveys at The artist’s main galleries: Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, Annely Juda Fine Art in London and LA Louver in Los Angeles. A collective catalog of works by all three of them is admirable. It also calls the combined shows “the most comprehensive exhibition” of Kossoff paintings ever held in a commercial gallery, which seems like an empty boast.
To date, Kossoff is one of the most successful painters of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He has been unfairly overshadowed by Englishmen such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, thanks in part to his life their colorful individual lives. But this can pass.
Kossoff’s greatness lies in the way he pairs two fundamental realities of painting – the actual painted surface and the depicted image – with each other. The first is that his oil paints are surprisingly heavy, even irritating, sometimes seeming to shed more than is normally applied with a brush (even large ones), and this gives His surface is an almost terrain size. Then there’s the fact that his images, initially drenched in paint, will eventually fight their way through readability through a process that thrillingly slows down and lengthens the action of looking. .
The artist’s subjects are divided into two main groups. There are self-portraits as well as portraits of friends and family and paintings of nude models – all done during long study sessions in his studio. Then there is everything outside, namely London and its pace of life. This he captured in his drawings of construction sites; Pedestrians pass by famous buildings or enter subway stations, as well as trains running along the tracks. These drawings begin with a lot of drawings done on site, from there he paints in the studio.
The 13 paintings at Mitchell-Innes & Nash span three decades and cover most of his subjects. They begin with the large “Seated Nude No. 1” (1963) – a Rubenesque woman sunk in a dark armchair – filled with early cues of his vision. Among other highlights is a 1992 drawing of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s British Baroque masterpiece, Christ Church, Spitalfields in the East End, towering above people rushing past on the sidewalks; an authoritative sitting portrait of his father; a scene of loud destruction; and two passing trains seen from above, through the trees.
The great thing about Kossoff’s paintings is the sheer precision of their portraits, in a spiritual and physical sense. All of his subjects appear as complex presences, living parts of the living world – whether human, architectural or natural – animated by the thick surface. and his quiet vibrations. It is said that the only still photograph in the entire raisonné catalog is from the early 1950s, when Kossoff was just getting started. Even his paintings based on old masters are often multifaceted pieces for him to add his own special buzz. This is evidenced in this wonderful performance by the acrobatic bodies and brushstrokes of his Poussin clone. He didn’t care much for the silence.
Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting
Through March 5 at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 West 26th Street, Manhattan; 212-744-7400, miandn.com.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/arts/design/leon-kossoff-artist-exhibition.html Leon Kossoff: Seeing life with a loaded brush