“There is poetry to the fantasy worlds pictured in the images of Linda Le Kinff. Prints, paintings, and drawings portray people doing what one might regard as the most ordinary activities: a woman holds a flower, another plays a guitar, yet another in a broad hat holds a flute, and elegantly-dressed men and women participate in a musicale. And yet, Le Kinff’s scenes are anything but ordinary. They are exotic. They are lush. They are richly colored. They exude a rhythmic harmony. Scenes where little is happening are effortlessly elevated to a higher realm, one in which a kind of introspective inner peace prevails. And the viewer is subtly transported to this magical world, for the viewer in some inexplicable way seems to share in the special, passionate experience of Le Kinff’s figures. The figures that populate her sensual paintings never look out at the viewer, and never acknowledge our presence. Instead they pose, often in an intimate private moment, ironically beckoning us to slip into their world and share their privacy. In other words, as viewers look on, unobserved, they discover they are not detached from the image — instead they curiously find themselves immersed in the pleasures, moods, and feelings of Le Kinff’s figures.”
Excerpted from The Poetic World of Linda Le Kinff by Joseph Jacobs
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The Poetic World of Linda Le Kinff
Le Kinff's world can be described as Old World, and, in many respects, it is distinctly European. There is no intimation of modernization, of twentieth-century technology, and of the harsh pace of contemporary life. The Internet, television, space shuttle, moon landings, cellular phones, and PDA's have no place in Le Kinff's civilized scenes, which harken back to some unspecific period when time stopped and people took the opportunity to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. It is a world in which people have paused to indulge in the five senses — slowing down to listen to the melodic sounds of music, to enjoy the pleasant touch of a soft furry cat, to experience the fragrant smell of a tender flower, to witness the dazzling fireworks of color and form in a floral bouquet, and to taste the complex subtle flavors of freshly brewed tea.
One can sense from these images that Le Kinff grew up in Paris, steeped in the traditions of the School of Paris — of Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Amedeo Modigliani, Marie Laurencin, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, Raoul Dufy, Andre Derain, and Maurice Utrillo. She was born in Paris in 1949. Her father was French, her mother Brazilian. At age eighteen, she visited Italy, and it was at this point, after years of making art, that she became serious about becoming a professional painter. Unexpectedly, she ended up spending the better part of twelve years in Italy, in part studying with Italian artists, immersing herself in the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods, and learning a wide range of techniques, such as tempera, gold leaf, printmaking, and especially engraving — techniques that would serve her well over the years and allow her to express herself in a broad range of media, more than most artists. In the early 1980s, Le Kinff studied at the South Tyrol Academy of Art in Brunico, where among other techniques she learned to paint on wood with casein, a tradition more associated with the Old Masters than with twenty-first century artists who prefer the media of film, video, and photography.
Le Kinff's talents were already recognized by 1975, when she had her first major show at Galerie Hoche Saint-Honoré in Paris, and later that year at the Festival du Marais, also in Paris. In 1976, she began showing in Italy, at Cantini Arte in both Florence and Palermo. In 1977, she had seven exhibitions in France and Italy, and by 1978 she was showing in Switzerland and Morocco as well. The 1980s saw her exhibiting around the world, from Japan and Singapore to the United States, Norway, Belgium, and Australia.
Through her rise to international exposure, she retained her School of Paris sensibility, that resonance of the highly civilized era of Matisse and Modigliani in the opening decades of the twentieth century. As in the work of these forerunners, her images focus on the human figure, generally women, mostly in interior situations, with the intimated interiors often functioning like the containers of an emotion, mood, or spirit. This singular theme characterizes Le Kinff's artworks as mood compositions that convey, to use the artist's word, ambiance, and these pictures are as much about this mood as they are about anything specific happening in the scene. Take, for example, Femme au chat, 1995 (serigraph, 1998, pg. 108) (Fig. 1,), an oil painting on wood panel. Here a woman dressed in red pantaloons and a purple and green blouse sits on a stunning blue and yellow striped pillow. Her face, dotted with ruby red lips, is horizontally tilted up in serene nonchalance. In her lap, curled up in a ball, is a very content brown cat, on which the woman gently lays her hand. Woman, cat, and cushions are all encased in a radiant foil of red walls and floor, punctuated by occasional notes of blue and yellow. There is a peaceful serenity about this scene, reinforced by the softness of the fabrics, the lush colors, and the sensuous movement of line.
Drawing is assigned a key role in Le Kinff’s paintings, and her line is meant to be musical — melodic, rhythmic, and mood evoking. The play of line in Femme au chat is obvious, and vies with color as the dominant mode. The rhythmic sweeps are endless, as readily seen in the billowing fabric covering the legs, the scalloping of the neckline of the dress, the sweep of the woman’s right arm as it bends around the leg and continues down into the fingers, the undulating tempo of the outline of the brown hair, and the delicate pulse of the line of the feet and toes. The curvilinear pattern continues to the edge of the carpet on the floor, accentuated by a mysterious green tendril or snake-like form at the very bottom of the painting. The cat in the center of the composition is circular, echoing the tondo shape of the picture which is, of course, the defining curve of this image. This round field not only evokes Renaissance and Old Master painting in general, it also serves to enhance the sense of voyeurism, creating a telescopic view of the world, or even a peephole.
Le Kinff’s painting also evokes a host of great predecessors, putting her into a rather prestigious lineage. Her woman suggests an odalisque — a Middle-Eastern slave or concubine in a harem, a theme that first became popular in Europe during the Rococo period of the eighteenth century, and was swept into vogue in the nineteenth century with the rise of Romanticism and a love for the exotic. In part because of her drawing, Le Kinff’s woman especially brings to mind Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the great neo-classical painter who painted many odalisques. In the 1920s, the odalisque was a favorite subject of Henri Matisse. He was particularly taken with North African subjects, and portrayed exotic Algerian women in pantaloons, often playing musical instruments. Both Ingres and Matisse immediately come to mind when looking at Femme au chat, although Le Kinff’s picture does not resemble either artist specifically, and stylistically it has its own integrity quite apart from any predecessor.
As much as one can talk about line and color in a work like Femme au chat, it is important to recognize the role of brushwork in Le Kinff’s art and how painterly it becomes in portions of the picture, creating a textural and visual variety designed to delight the eye. This painterliness can be seen in the cloud of loose, dark-toned paint on the pantaloons as well as in the open space between the woman’s feet. Broad, sweeping brushstrokes are streaked through the red background, and are found in the woman’s hair. This painterliness even breaks up the implied geometry of the solid ticking of the cushion, for a section of a yellow stripe under the woman’s right leg is dabbed with a thin veil of black paint.
Ultimately, it is the abstract elements that create the mood for Le Kinff’s pictures, in a sense expounding at length on the content intimated by representational subject matter. It should come as no surprise that one of the artist’s favorite themes is the musicale, scenes of elegantly dressed men and women playing musical instruments and singing. The musicale fits in nicely with the sensuality of Le Kinff’s subject matter. But it also serves as a metaphor for the role that abstraction plays in her work. Music is abstract, and, in effect, the use of color, line drawing, texture, and surface design are all abstract notes that Le Kinff orchestrates into a complex symphony, sonata, or concerto in order to evoke a mood or ambiance.
Comparing musicales reveals how this abstraction works. Take, for example, L’Orchestre fou, 1995 (serigraph, 1996, pg. 96) (Fig. 2). Some eleven musicians playing stringed instruments and a piano are jumbled together into a tight space. The sharp white notes of their bodies, boldly contrasted with the black fabric of their costumes, create a highly syncopated, almost cacophonous arrangement across the surface of the composition, which runs up the picture plane rather than back into space. The piano keyboard, penetrating the image from the lower right at a dramatic cubist angle, reinforces the fast pace of the music suggested by the wild arrangement of figures. Stravinsky’s powerful and rhythmic Rite of Spring comes to mind, although there is nothing in the title or image to suggest the composition being played.
Contrasting L’Orchestre fou with Les Quatre saisons, 1997 (serigraph, 1998, pg. 111) (Fig. 3), it is evident how each picture evokes an entirely different mood. Again, there are eleven figures punctuating the surface of the composition with a staccato rhythm. But unlike the disarray of the figures in L’Orchestre fou, the musicians are loosely aligned in either horizontal rows or diagonal lines, some diagonals echoing the angle of the keyboard, again located in the lower right corner. The image seems to capture the highly organized but often quick-paced rhythm of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, although this masterpiece from the eighteenth century is entirely instrumental, with no vocal component. But, again, Le Kinff’s themes should never be taken literally. If the artist uses “The Four Seasons” in her title, it is not necessarily meant to suggest that Vivaldi’s composition is being performed, but rather merely to evoke the ambiance of eighteenth-century refinement and help establish the mood of the piece.
Grand Orchestre, 1996, an oil on wood panel (seriolithograph, 2002) (Fig. 4), demonstrates the range of mood Le Kinff can elicit from a single theme. The composition is now far less curvilinear, and instead is structured using cubist geometric lines and angles. The piece is virtually a mosaic of triangles, trapezoids, and lozenges, which miraculously comes together to create figures, costumes, instruments, and sheet music. The geometric forms also constitute the negative space between three-dimensional forms — green, purple, and red triangles, for example, fill the space between the musicians. Even more than L’Orchestre fou and Les Quatre saisons, this image seems to float on the surface instead of receding back into depth, a device that allows for Le Kinff’s abstraction to take over and play a dominant role over the representational component. The image has a more pronounced sense of electricity and sharpness than the other two musicales, and a very different kind of energy and tempo. The powerful thrust of the pianist’s eyebrow and bow tie virtually symbolize the dynamism of the picture.
Le Kinff even explores the shape of the field as a device for creating ambiance. Already mentioned is the tondo in Femme au chat, which reinforces the curvilinear sensuality of the interior of the piece. More recently, the artist has been creating very long vertical compositions, as seen in Jacquon et Lili, 2001 (serigraph, 2002, pg. 168) (Fig. 5), Corset juane, 2001 (serigraph, 2002, pg. 168) (Fig. 6), and Niana Au, 2001 (serigraph, 2002) (Fig. 7). This shape gives the pictures an elegant verticality. It also closes off any background more powerfully than the more conventional rectangular compositions, forcing the image to stay very close to the surface and allowing for an even stronger abstract reading of the picture. The image is so compressed that the colors, shapes, and lines become design elements that dance, flicker, float, or strut across the field of the composition.
Anastasia au chat, 1995 (“Anastasia”, serigraph, 1998, pg. 114) (Fig. 8), Hélène II, 2002 (serigraph, 2004, pg. 184) (Fig. 9), Samma, 1999 (serigraph, 2000, pg. 145) (Fig. 10) and Télèmaque, 2000 (serigraph, 2000, pg. 141) (Fig. 11) show four slightly differently women: Anastasia with honey brown hair and a severe face, Hélène with chestnut hair and a brooding expression, Samma with golden hair and dreamy self-content, and Télèmaque with billowing blonde hair swept from a face focused in concentrated meditation. But the real personalities stem from the relationship of the figures to the surroundings and the abstraction. Anastasia oozes sensuality as the red of her dress bleeds into the immediate decor. Her sensuality continues in the striated red pigment flowing down the surface of the picture behind her and to her left. With Hélène, the sensuality is more energetic, as created by the rays of color — red, yellow, and violet — that emanate from the skirt of her dress and her gloved arm, and the ebullient yellow-centered red posies with bright green leaves on a marine blue background that surrounds her. In the case of Samma, the surroundings are simple, restricted to a rich blue and grey background and a vase with a flowering vine, all of which give her an uncomplicated heated passion. Télèmaque, in contrast, is more complex, for she is gently immersed in a shower of violet flowers, endowing her with softness and a sweet fragrance.
The ability to evoke ambiance though style can be readily seen in Le Kinff’s drawings. Many are executed using simple linear contours, reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s style, as in Untitled #24, 2000 (Fig. 12). Others, such as Untitled #23, 2000 (Fig. 13), add to this elegant Matisse-like drawing a patch of solid black, which imbues the images with an Art Nouveau sensuality that brings to mind the work of the English artist Aubrey Beardsley.
Le Kinff’s drawings are a testament to her facility with line, which she developed while still a student in the 1960s. Such early works as Le Masque (Fig. 14) from 1968 and Danseuse à la lune (Fig. 15) from 1970 have the same sinuous, flowing, confident drawing and proficiency found in the recent work just discussed. Her illustrations for Boccaccio’s The Decameron (Page 250), created for Casa del Boccaccio in Certaldo, Italy, the museum and birthplace of the great writer, reveal that her drawing style was almost fully developed by 1972. As impressive as was the honor of this major book commission, bestowed upon a young, emerging artist, it would be only one of many commissions and awards she would receive, including her selection in 1998 as the official Soccer World Cup artist. The French government minted a commemorative medallion of her painting for this prestigious commission, the only time a living French artist has ever received this national honor.
Mention should also be made of Le Kinff’s early landscapes. Because of her preoccupation with the women that appear in the vast majority of her works, it is easy to overlook the diversity of her oeuvre. Such views as Toscane Florence, 1970 (Fig. 16), and Japan, 1971 (Fig. 17), reveal her magic in capturing landscape, and her early understanding and ability to assimilate European Modernism into her artistic vocabulary as seen in the flat, colorful patterning. But a work like Japan also reflects nineteenth century Japanese wood blocks, which had a major impact on the development of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Twentieth Century Modernism.
Ultimately, it is difficult to pin down Le Kinff's sources, and her oeuvre is rich in motifs, styles, and media. This richness reflects her travels in India, Tibet, Mexico, and Italy in the 1970s; her printmaking studies with Yves Brayer, Corneille (Cornelis Guillaume van Beverloo), and Charles Lapicque in Paris in 1975; and a six-month residency in Morocco in 1978. The hot palette (i.e., intense bright colors) found in much of her work of the last twenty years, the artist attributes to her Brazilian heritage. Not only does Le Kinff make oil paintings, watercolors, ink drawings, lithographs and serigraphs, she also works in tempera, sand, and Sumi technique (the Japanese ink-painting she learned from Okamoto Taro, one of Japan's most famous postwar artists), along with gold leaf, wood engraving, copper engraving, casein, and pastel. She also uses the more modern techniques of acrylic and airbrush.
This catalogue raisonné is dedicated to Le Kinff's original graphic works, which, of course, deal with the same aesthetic issues found in her paintings and drawings. The artist's first graphic was Le Masque (Fig. 14), a lithograph made in 1968. The director of the contemporary art department of Christie's of London, the famous English auction house and publisher, was so impressed by her watercolors that in 1977 he commissioned her to make lithographs after these works on paper. This event launched her career in original printmaking, which she has pursued continuously ever since.
In some respects, Le Kinff's lithographs and serigraphs reproduced in this catalogue raisonné are as original as her paintings and drawings. They are based on her unique work, but they do not necessarily replicate it. Nor are they meant to, for the works oftentimes have a life all their own. The artist, for example, is known to make slight changes in color as she moves from painting to serigraph, in part because she is not always able to find a printing ink that matches her original paint color. As a result, she adjusts the colors in the serigraphs to accommodate the hues available in ink. More important, Le Kinff individualizes some impressions by painting directly on a handful of serigraphs from a single edition. This evolution of a painting into the print medium can be seen in
While Le Kinff makes serigraphs, she is not a printmaker per se, for, as discussed, she works in many different media, giving equal status to each. She can only be described as a contemporary artist. And yet, Le Kinff's work is timeless. It exists in the past as much as in the present, and perhaps it is safe to say that it represents the future. Her world of women embodies universal human emotions, wants, needs, and desires. It is by and large a civilized world, one of refinement, leisure, and indulgence. In addition, one cannot help but feel that it is also the artist's personal world, reflecting the sensations and desires that she herself has experienced. It is these heart-felt feelings and passions that Le Kinff has poured into her art.About the Author
Joseph Jacobs is an art historian, who is an essayist, curator, and critic. He has served as Director of the Center Gallery at Bucknell University, Curator of Modern Art at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Director of the Oklahoma City Art Museum, and Curator of American Art at The Newark Museum. His many books and catalogues include Since the Harlem Renaissance, 50 Years of Afro-American Art (1984), This Is Not a Photograph: Twenty Years of Large-Scale Photography (1987), and A World of Their Own: Twentieth-Century American Folk Art (1995). He has written articles on contemporary artists for such art periodicals as Arts Magazine and Art Papers, and is a major contributor to the contemporary art section of the sixth edition of W.H. Janson's History of Art (2004).
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