Robert Kipniss

Robert Kipniss, painter and printmaker, was born in New York City in 1931. He creates essentially monochromatic*, stylized vistas with natural and architectural elements intended to evoke an elegiac, nearly surrealistic mood in haunting, silent landscapes; the melancholy of nostalgia. Trees, in mid and far-distance, form clusters or act as misty individuals containing a haunted, indefinable presence, witnesses to the foreground drama of more specific shape, form and detail, often a close-up tree. Kipniss studied at the Art Students League* in 1947; Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, 1948-50; and the University of Iowa, receiving a BA degree in English literature in 1952, and an MFA in painting and art history in 1954. The artist employs a meticulous technique combining a multiplicity of specific strokes, whether with brush, pencil or print-maker's needle and burin*, to create the essence of his generalized, non-specific forms. Light and darkness are clearly Kipniss' compositionally constructive elements. They also exist as contestants in the emotional drama at the heart of each work of art. The contrast, and sometimes combat, between these two opposites, symbolically represent with blackness -- ideas of threat, fear, trouble, evil; with whiteness safety, redemption, fulfillment and good. In Kipniss' 1995 mezzotint*, Clear Vase and Landscape, with a foreground image of precisely leafy stalks, the vase holding them, nearly invisible in its transparency, suggests an almost Salvador Dali-like surrealist device. This central image dominates but seems to invite association with, and commentary from, the surrounding clumps and individual round-topped, yet cedar-like trees. His mezzzotint, For Stella," 1997, depicts a gently twisting, curving, pale and smoothly-barked foreground, leafless tree limb or trunk, like a female human body, suggesting weakness, fatigue, an inability to deal with the staccato background screen of textured bush that seems to uncomfortably impinge upon it. This print is arguably a metaphor for a delicate soul struggling to overcome the prickly difficulties of domineering life. The classic mezzotint process, invented in the middle of the 17th Century, is the reverse of most of the other print-making media, since the artist works from a black ground to increasingly lighter areas. The copper plate is first roughened by a "rocker," creating a burr over the entire surface (the more burr left intact, the more ink it holds, the darker the final finished print). The artist, Robert Kipniss, in this instance, gradually burnishes, smoothes down the burr in varying degrees to produce the gradations of lights and darks of the final design. The deepest darks in the final picture are those areas on the plate that have been little touched after the initial roughening. Mezzotint relies on shade and tone rather than outline for its effect, which fits the Kipniss style of atmospheric* masses of value. A recent oil painting by Robert Kipniss, Hillside Silhouettes, 2001, 40 x 29, is somewhat more complex in composition than many, with four cubically-constructed houses each set in their own zones, seemingly unrelated to one another, with receding hills and similarly isolated, increasingly misty trees beyond. In his career, Robert Kipniss has had over 40 one-man shows since the first in New York in 1951, including an important retrospective exhibition at the Associated American Artist Gallery, New York in 1977. Many of these one-man exhibitions have been mounted by over 50 museums in the United States, South America and Europe, including the Chicago Art Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modem Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Library of Congress and British Museum in London. Robert Kipniss is represented in the permanent collections of the institutions above, among many others, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art; New York Public Library; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Detroit Art Institute; Yale University Museum; National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; and the New Orleans Museum of Art. He was elected to the National Academy of Design* in 1980, and to the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, London in 1998 Robert Kipniss can be referenced in numerous publications, including Who's Who in American Art from the 1950s to the present, and multiple reviews in periodicals like Art News, Art in America and Art Forum. There are also three important catalogues raisonne published on his work. Artist Statement: Artists are asked to write statements about their work throughout their careers, and I must say writing such a statement as I turn 85 is very different than when I was 45, 55, or 65. One thing I have most wonderfully learned is that the greatest reward for making art is making art. The life of an artist is about the art. In the beginning, getting a career started was very challenging, mostly because there was no sure way to do it, no rules, no guideposts; it was with trial and error that I gradually became established. Instinctively I knew that painting and exhibiting were the only essentials I needed, and whatever difficulties I encountered along my path, there was always the reassurance of working and learning. My first one-artist show was in a 57th Street gallery in 1951, which was then the heart of the New York art world. Exhibiting and success are not the same and this first show made a very modest ripple. I was working and showing right from the start, and it never occurred to me to wonder if I would be successful or not. I was working and had become a small part of the art world. Life was good. From just before I began regarding painting as a serious life pursuit I had started writing with the conviction I would spend my life as a poet and a fiction writer. A year later I realized that while I had enjoyed painting as a past-time it would now share my desire to write as the focus of my energies for the rest of my life. For about ten years my painting was lyrical, energetic, filled with bright color and charged with exuberance. At the same time my writing was dark, angry, at times a bit surreal, and often painful to create. When I stopped writing for a while in the early 1960s my paintings took on the characteristics of my former writing, and became infused with anger, a dark monochromatic palette, and occasionally slightly surreal themes: the added gravitas became immediately apparent. It was only a few years after this that my inner lyricism began to re-surface and meld with the darkness; this was the beginning of my mature style. Unexpectedly, my career took off. I have lived my life as I dreamed of doing as a young man.
Source of Biography