- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2001

Jacob Kainen, 91, is the elder statesman of Washington's artists.

Major institutions such as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington's National Gallery of Art and London's British Museum own his paintings and prints. He paints and shows his work regularly.

Mr. Kainen's oil paintings and prints have contributed to his fame, but his paintings on paper are less recognized. Hemphill Fine Arts in Georgetown is exhibiting this important component of the artist's work.

Paintings on paper such as "Landscape Near the Bay" (1967) and "Secret Signals II" (1972) are major works of art and deserve recognition as such. Mr. Kainen often works on paper as he is waiting for his oils to dry on canvas.

He exploits paper to the fullest for an intriguing variety of effects. For example, viewers could easily mistake "Landscape" for a watercolor. He created this fleeting distillation of sea, sand and tree-covered cliffs with a thin oil wash on textured Strathmore charcoal paper.

Others placed near it, such as "Ponce de Leon" (1978) and "Blue Suspension" (1976), were painted later on a drier kind of paper. Calligraphic brushings of red form pools on the paper's less absorbent surface in the 1978 work. The strokes of "Blue Suspension" appear even flatter.

"I've always loved the spontaneity of printing on paper," Mr. Kainen says. "The color of the paper is different from the white of the canvas and gives a different kind of translucency."

The gallery did an excellent job of juxtaposing works that resonate with one another. One long wall holds four paintings from the 1970s with "The Morning After" of 1993. The artist composed each with his signature biomorphic and geometric shapes, sinuous calligraphic lines and singing colors.

Consider "Fatima" (1971), a large pastel-and-oil on paper. The colors are hazy, almost smoky. Mr. Kainen made his shapes simple: They are circles, a tipped rectangle, a four-cornered form and a bent plane figure. His chief interests then and now are the nuances of color and surface.

Examine the colors. Lavender glows as the soft center of a large white circle speckled with gold. Then the eye jumps to the rust-orange of the tipped rectangle. Then we leap to a brilliant tangerine of a four-pronged ocher shape. Mr. Kainen laid the whole on a softly modulated blue-gray background.

The gallery hung the intensely colored "Secret Agent" (1976) to the left of "Fatima." A globe of turquoise set in a lemon-yellow grid skirts the top edge. Deep green makes up the bottom section while light radiates from behind it.

Viewers should also observe how Mr. Kainen treats the edges of his forms. He places a broken, vibrating line around the tipped rectangle of "Fatima." A shaded-gray linear area outlines the four-pointed ocher shape.

Mr. Kainen's calligraphic line unites all five works on the wall but is most expressive in "The Morning After." The artist almost violently brushes skeins of black paint for a dervishlike dance.

The gallery's back room holds the most colorful works. The geometric shapes in three 1970s paintings set next to one another — "Secret Signals II," "Green Matrix" and "Bright Mirror" — seem to jump from one to another.

Mr. Kainen repeats the inverted pointed red triangle of "Signals" in the pointed white hexagon of "Matrix." "Signals' " white circle reappears in the red globular outline of "Mirror."

The artist has his special set of symbols. One is the rectangle set at the base of "Mirror." He remembers that he was staying in a Philadelphia hotel in 1947 and hung his shirt over the back of a chair to dry. The image evolved into the rectangular shapes he favors.

Others are Russian circles and crosses that he saw in a 1972 trip to his parents' native country. The black cross set in a white circle in "Signals" keys the work and makes it more starkly symbolic than usual.

Few artists can claim careers of more than 70 years and several thousand paintings as Mr. Kainen can. He began his work as an artist at the height of the Great Depression of 1929 in New York, hardly an opportune time. The artist persevered through his move from New York to Washington. A job at the Smithsonian Institution's graphic arts division was the only one available to him in 1942.

The Smithsonian's Museum of American Art gave Mr. Kainen a major retrospective in 1993 — a survey of close to 70 years — that revealed him as a major figure in contemporary American art.

Now, at Hemphill Fine Arts, we can see still another component for an additional view of this amazing artist.WHAT: "Jacob Kainen: Paintings on Paper 1950-1995"WHERE: Hemphill Fine Arts, 1027 33rd St. NWWHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through April 28TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/342-5610

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide