Daniel Kohn, a painter who is best known here in New York City for
the large panel installation at Grand Central Station in the summer of
2002 memorializing the World Trade Towers, is showing the first new
series of work since the broad, sweeping urbanscapes as seen from the
city’s highest vantage point. Entitled Interiors-Portraits, the
new works deal with interiors and are very much about relationship and
how living spaces create spatial and emotional bonds.
Although figuration is always present in Kohn’s work, the backbone of
his art is a sense of the architectonic nature of the painted space.
Planes of light and color — of paint — define a radical space that
challenges us as viewers through our bodies as well as our minds.
Kohn is an excellent draftsman. Elaborate compositions — a dinner
table with glasses half filled with wine, people in conversation, empty
bowls, shadows cast by the light from an adjacent kitchen — are
carefully drawn in to begin the work. As the paintings progress and
color fields are identified, objects and people are selectively painted
out, leaving an open narrative and a dynamic sense of a space in flux.
In one painting, Red Four, a quartet of empty chairs vibrates on a field
of saturated red, a dance of objects tethered only by the suggested
horizon line of a wall. In its partner painting, the rich, red color
field again occupies most of the painting, bordered only by a slender
line of neutral wall, and open, green shutters at the top right-hand
corner. The pitch of the few colors present in both paintings is
electric and elegant.
In all of the works, Kohn is handling oil paint more like watercolor,
allowing it to glaze an area and wash layer by layer in the thinnest of
patinas. Thus, the line between ‘painted areas’ and ‘drawn areas’
becomes moot: one’s eye moves easily from raw linen and charcoal to
light filled areas of orange, or deep blue, as easily as passing from
one room into another.
The two large tableaus that dominate the exhibition allow the drawing
beneath the painting to be a primary element. In one, "After Dinner in
1997," the center panel of the triptych features a charcoal sketched
figure as its focal point, without any overlay of paint. Lightly pitched
in a background of bright orange with the chair tilting slightly back
away from the dinner table, this central figure is disengaged from the
conversation, and begins to recede from the scene. The lack of
engagement precludes his becoming more invisible to those surrounding
By contrast, the lively tableau of "New Years Eve 2003" depicts seven
people at the end of dinner, all completely engaged and warmed by their
shared company. The farther one’s eye travels from the center of the
table, the sketchier the room becomes, with the back corner of the
kitchen seemingly drawn in. Measuring 120 inches across, this is a
painting one wishes to literally enter into, because its warmth is so
As remembered spaces, the interiors are highly constructed. In
contrast, for his portraiture Kohn focuses on the communal moment when
the sitter, the painter and the space on the canvas all merge. It is a
discussion made visual in which the painting itself compresses time —
the time of repeated sessions, the different moods of the sitter, the
perception of the painter, and finally the ultimate demands of the
evolving canvas. One is reminded of Giacometti’s rigorous discipline in
rendering a subject. Through this three-part dance, the portrait
emerges. These finely wrought paintings reveal much about their subjects
— gently — while still staying true to the omnipresent concerns of
compositional shapes and tonalities.