HOWARD KANOVITZ

“Painting Through The Lens”

new pastels and installations at the Ulrich Gering Gallery, Frankfurt, Germany

April 13 - June 6, 2008

REALITY IS CUBISTIC

by Peter Lahn

Reprinted from artnet Magazin 26 April, 2008

Translation - Steven Seymour

 

Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish writer, essayist, and war reporter, in a 2000 interview was asked about his view as to how we arrived at the notion of truth. According to Kapuscinski, reality is cubistic, and the whole picture of what is true can be arrived at only through many different perspectives. Everything has many surfaces  Truth, however, is a cliché that stems from exaggeration of a single experience: “What sense does it make to speak from the point of view of a Brazilian? Or to ask whether Brazil is a rich or a poor country? It all depends on what region of that enormous country we have in mind, what city, what street, and even which house. The problem probably has to do with the limits of our imagination. “

Howard Kanovitz

Big Head Self, 2007

Pastell und verschiedene

Materialien

36 x 48 cm

Courtest of Galerie Ulrich Gering,

Frankfurt/Main

For Howard Kanovitz, the grand old master of American photorealism, the “cubistic” reality is the point of departure in his aesthetic-artistic quest. In Painting Through The Lens, which is a series of his most recent works, he is concerned precisely with such questions as how truth, reality, perception, and experience correlate in a picture, and how the search for answers relates to truth. Among colleagues such as Alex Colville, Richard Estes, Philip Pearlstein, Chuck Close, Robert Cottingham and Alex Katz, Kanovitz was always considered an intellectual. No matter how serious the questions, his artistic answers are always poetic and lyrical. His works have always been pictures of pictures, pictures about pictures, highly abstract in their realistic subtleness, and though modern, are governed by classical patterns of composition. As a painter, Kanovitz comes from abstraction, and that is why his realistic output can be described as concretization of the abstract. In this sense, he  s still the follower of his teacher Franz Kline who in 1951 took him on as a student in New York.

The Painting Through The Lens series questions and scrutinizes the reality created by the artist. For Kanovitz such scrutinizing is a more coherent approach than the reality dissected within the concepts of photo-realism, hyper-realism, or radical realism. Kanovitz is more interested in the gap between a thing and its objective depiction. The mirror and the digital camera are his tools. In this regard, the mirror serves as a kind of an entity in itself, and the camera is a reflexive medium that distances the onlooker from the subject. Both the camera and the mirror are constantly present in this series, subtly underscoring the gap between what is presented and what is reflected.

It is striking that in the compositions of Painting Through The Lens the perspective is barely noticeable and it becomes clearer thanks to the grid. In the self-portrait Big Head Self, an interesting variation is that the camera seems to be posted in front of the grid. The perspective is not due to the camera, but to the distortion caused by the mirror. In all other respects, both in the portrait photographs and in the compositions, the anthropomorphic perspective is mostly absent. As a consequence, Kanovitz replaces the principle of apparative construction with rhythm. This is why in the installation Big Head, Kanovitz makes the rhythm of the concept completely free: the 14 canvases of different sizes are composed as a jazz improvisation, so that the individual segments can be put together by a gallery director, an exhibition organizer, or by the buyer. This approach hints at a biographical trait of the artist, his career as a jazz musician. He does the composing, whereas others participate in performing or interpreting.

The structure of the compositions is always the same: a person is positioned in front of a mirror surface that consists of small square mirrors assembled to form a grid. This “mirror grid” is used as an instrument that splits the entire picture into fragments while preserving the fragmented order of the whole. The resulting photo portrait then becomes either the starting point for processing by the painter or for digital invention in the computer. Thus the small digital camera is in the picture at all times. For Kanovitz, it is important that the device itself, just as the object of investigation, remains visible. Ever since the 1960s and 1970s, the use of constructive elements was an important aspect of his work, and these elements were incorporated variably as a mask, as a limitation, and an expansion of the pictorial composition. At that time, however, the framed clippings of reality pointed toward an important problem in art history, one of perspective, and toward Leon Battista Alberti’s concept of a painting as a window to the world, consisting of a set of escape points.

Howard Kanovitz

CO Green Hair

Pastell und verschiedene

Howard Kanovitz

Mary Stu, 2007

Pastell und verschiedene

Materialien

34 x 40 cm

Courtest of Galerie Ulrich Gering,

Frankfurt/Main

Howard Kanovitz

Real Self, 2007

Pastell und verschiedene

Materialien

34 x 46 cm

Courtest of Galerie Ulrich Gering,

Frankfurt/Main

This freedom of independent improvisation is part of the perception concept that forms new sets of relations out of numerous possibilities of equal significance. Kanovitz has always been open to novel techniques, and he appreciates the freedoms offered by the digital technology. For him the digital prints have uncommon painterly qualities, and the creative possibilities of the computer open completely new prospects. He cannot tell where this work is going to lead him. He is curious about it, and that curiosity keeps not only the nearly eighty-year-old artist young, but also keeps his work alive.

artnet Magazin

26 April, 2008