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Howard Kanovitz, born in Fall River, Massachusetts, began painting in 1949, after an early career as a jazz trombonist. He studied at The Rhode Island School of Design and at The Art Students League in Woodstock with Yasu Kunyyoshi, before moving to New York City and apprenticing with Franz Kline.

HK and LR would leave the Cedar Bar to play gigs at The Blue Note and The Five Spot.

Howard Kanovitz and Larry Rivers

would leave the Cedar Bar to play gigs

at The Blue Note and The Five Spot.

1956  Agriculture    

Howard Kanovitz Collection

East Hampton, c. 1955 William deKooning at bat,

Howard Kanovitz, catcher, Franz Kline, umpire. 

Photo by Hans Namuth

Howard Kanovitz and  beat poet Gregory Corso, South of France, 1956

His Abstract Expressionist work was exhibited at Tenth Street galleries - Tanager, Hansa, Poindexter, and in Stable Gallery Annuals. Kanovitz also had a two person show with Marisol at The Great Jones Gallery and participated in the 1956 “Poets Select Painter’s” show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.   

Kanovitz always painted representational work but remained safely within what he later called the Abstract Expressionist “orthodoxy” for exhibition. His 1956-8 travels in Europe and Morocco, playing jazz in Paris and painting in Florence, fueled his interest in classical drawing. After returning to New York he enrolled in art history courses at The Institute of Fine Arts, studying under W.H. Janson and Erwin Panofsky, but left the program in order to paint full time.

Kanovitz’s first solo show was at The Stable Gallery in 1962. Although still abstract, the more open compositions suggested architectural elements and rudimentary figures. 


The following year, Kanovitz’s father died. While pondering old family snapshots, the power of those photographic images made him change his career course. The photo based, representational paintings exhibited in a solo show at the Jewish Museum in 1966 were the first to be called “photo-realist” and shocked many in the art community. So much so, that a symposium was held at the New York Studio School for “downtown artists” to weigh in on this perennial “hot topic”, newly addressed by one of their own.

1962, Second Avenue Still Life

Private Collection

1965, New Yorkers I, Whitney Museum

1966, New Yorkers II

Private Collection

Howard Kanovitz sitting at the 1966

Jewish Museum Solo Exhibition, NYC

Kanovitz first began using the airbrush in 1967.  Cut out figures created using this precisionist technique were placed in the viewers space, in front of a painted canvas depicting the luminaries of the art world of the time. The installation was the centerpiece in the first of several Waddell Gallery shows.

1967, The People, 

Museum of Modern Art

Utrecht, Holland

1967  The Opening, Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany

The Studio Window of 1968, part of a career long fascination with widows, walls, corridors and doors, was the first in a series of shaped canvases that presented as both a 3-D object per sa, and as an illusionistic painting.  Also part of “The Studio Series” was the flat canvas, The Painting  Wall, which was combined with a cut out of The Water Bucket Stool, conflating the actual and illusory.

1968, The Studio Window

Private Collection

1967, The Painting Wall & Water Bucket Stool, Mumok, Vienna

Exhibitions in Germany and Sweden were followed by teaching appointments, commissions, and fellowships in Europe, with multiple year long residencies in London and Cologne.  During this period Kanovitz’s began to incorporate metaphoric elements in his work.  His critical interest in the nature of representation and the fragmented nature of observation resulted in paintings that dealt with the phenomenology of vision, image making, and image perception.  These works were exhibited at Dokumenta 5, Kassel, Germany in 1972 and Dokumenta 6 in 1977.

1971, Projected Man, Kunsthalle, Kiel

1971, Composition,

Museum Van Boyningen, Rotterdam

1971, Projected Street Scene, Folkwang Museum, Essen

Solo museum shows were held at the Hedengdaagse Kunst in Utrecht in 1973, the Wilhelm-Lehmbruck Museum in Duisberg in1974, the Akademie de Kunste, Berlin in 1979, and  at the Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover in 1980. In 1979 Kanovitz’s installation Death in Treme, depicting a New Orleans jazz funeral, was exhibited at The Berlin National Gallery.

1972, Death In Treme

Onnasch Collection, Berlin

Kanovitz designed stage sets in the US and Germany

– Provincetown Playhouse, Massachusetts, Guild Hall East Hampton, NY, LaMaMa, NYC, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien Studio, Berlin and Theater a.d.Ruhr, Mulhlhein a.d. Ruhr, among others. 

In the 1970’s, Kanovitz began using pastels with the goal of creating work as fully realized as any painting.  He more than succeeded.  Solo exhibitions of paintings and pastels were held at the Jollenbeck Gallery in Cologne and at the Alex Rosenberg and Staffanotty gallaries in New York.


1980, Interior With Bather, Private Collection

1981, If It Be, Sprengel Museum, Hannover

1978, Gertrude Stein At Five Corners, Private Collection

Light and its ability to create objective reality continued to be a principal player in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. The seemingly real is forced to coexist with the unabashedly romantic and imaginary.  In 3-d combines, both interact with sculptural architectural elements, meant to induce a heightened connection with the viewer, sharing in his/her physical environment.  Paintings and combines were featured in1989 and 1990 exhibitions at Marlborough Gallery in NYC and throughout the 1990’s at Galarie Inge Baecker, Cologne.

1989, Isle, Private Collection

1989, Spring Tide

Howard Kanovitz Foundation

1994, A Day Dream's Travel

Howard Kanovitz Foundation

1989, River's Edge

Howard Kanovitz Foundation

In 1991Kanovitz began working with the computer using Photoshop to create effects previously achieved through multiple slide projections, using his own photography, media appropriation, computer manipulation, and hand applied pastel or colored ink spray to achieve the affects he wanted.

1993, I Tatti, Howard Kanovitz Foundation

2004, Solo, Howard Kanovitz Foundation

Kanovitz’s 2004 mural sized work, Rain, was meant to be viewed either as one open ended narrative painting – or as a full room installation, enticing the viewer to participate in the recreation of the piece.

2008, Rain, Howard Kanovitz Foundation

2007, Howard Kanovitz, Self Portrait,

from "Painting Throught the Lens  Series"

Howard Kanovitz Foundation

Rain detail

"Abstract Expressionism used to turn me on to the mysteries of life. I painted colors and shapes that were symbols exhumed from the subconscious and were confirmed by what was believed to be Art. In the photographic realism of my later work nothing important changed, except that I began to paint things, not just colors and shapes. The complexity and range of possibility expanded. The impulse was the same."  

   -  Howard Kanovitz

Howard Kanovitz, Biography

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