Tobi Kahn

Andrea Marquit Fine Arts

Comprised of 16 small paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, Tobi Kahn’s recent show “Dreamscapes” explored the interdependence of memories and dreams. Kahn’s thickly painted, biomorphic abstractions were the most dramatic of the works shown here. Based on images of natural phenomena—either aerial views of the land and sea or microscopic cell formations—Kahn’s contemplative paintings are at once sensuous and spiritual, reminiscent of the work of Arthur Dove, William Baziotes, and Clyfford Still. As is reflected in his titles, Kahn is profoundly interested in spirituality and meditation—“Ullyh,” “Bodda,” and “Rinthar,” for example, are personal mantras. No matter how ephemeral the titles or imagery, however, the surfaces of Kahn’s painted and sculpted objects are thoroughly particular in their references. Abstract landscapes are memories of real places—the Lakes region of Canada, upstate New York, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the South of France, and Norway. In its grainy blue, white, and green surfaces, Bodda, 1992–94, subtly evokes the islands, fjords, and tundra of Norway. Using a combination of acrylic and Flashe, modeling paste, and marble dust, Kahn builds his multilayered surfaces to suggest undulating organic forms. Black outlines and grainy surfaces call attention to the formal qualities of the work, which functions as both painting and relief. In Bodda, a Masonite panel is attached to a second smaller panel so that the painting projects from the wall like a table top; the imagery on the sides and base of this panel are a continuation of what is depicted on the front.

Kahn’s paintings also reveal his interest in the human body. Ixqua, 1992, for example, is a horizontal painting that reads as both hot-red seascape and as a pair of open female legs. Nowhere is Kahn’s attention to the body more evident than in his newest acrylics on paper, which have a skinlike surface texture and depict anthropomorphic forms. Study for Madai, 1994, is constructed of many layers of acrylic and modeling paste that have been sanded to create the illusion of a relief. Black paint is mixed with the dominant blues, reds, and sandcolored pigments to create a grainy, porous surface. A miniaturized version of Still’s sublime mural canvases, this study looks as if Kahn literally peeled back layers of paint to create the lush surface.

The profoundly romantic, somewhat nostalgic mood of this exhibition was best exemplified by a small acrylic on handmade paper. In Study for Yshaar, 1994, a white angel holding her harp and wing rips through a fiery red sky like a fissure. The paper itself, richly textured and uneven at the sides, is a like an animal skin or talisman. Although many of the works in the show are small in scale, “Dreamscapes” is monumental in its vision.

Francine Koslow Miller