Leon Kossoff

Mitchell-Innes & Nash | Chelsea

THE FIRST THING THAT STRIKES one about Leon Kossoff's paintings is the heaviness and density of the surface; the second is the peculiar insubstantiality of the depicted forms, in spite of all that paint. The figure is reduced to a luminous shape with a few dark, shifting contours. Kossoff applies his medium crudely and thickly, with expressionistic violence and abandon (or is it forced, even labored spontaneity, studied abruptness? There is a kind of weariness to the handling, almost as though Kossoff were overfamiliar with it). The trick of the paintings—it's quite obvious in the figure of Jacinto, 1995, and the head of John I, 1998—is to make the blurry outline function as positive space and to turn flesh into negative space. The indefinite is made starkly definite, the definite precariously indefinite. (It's not unlike what Willem de Kooning did, albeit with less color and

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