Daniel Kohn - Resonance of Place
Daniel Kohn was born in Ahmedabad, India in 1964, and has French and American nationalities.
He grew up in France, did his university studies in the United States, and has been living in New York since 1996. His paintings explore our society through the lens of this multicultural point of view.
Daniel Kohn's early work centered around a series depicting interiors of his family's house in the hamlet of "Changy", in the Berry region of France (Changy Interiors). Although representational in appearance, his work is investigative in nature, imbued with influences from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. From Europe it takes its concern with narrative and time, from America a preoccupation with space.
Daniel has always been concerned with the ways in which Art and Place (both physical and cultural) are linked. The work on the French house dealt not only with its physical appearance but also with the ways in which painting in the Occident has been tied into the history of Christianity.
As a Jew living in France, his early interiors also represent an attempt to portray the symbology of the Last Supper from a secular perspective. Of a painting from this series he wrote:
"This painting is part of a series begun in 1994. After a trip to Romania I started painting Last Supper images. Quickly this forced me to deal with the complexities of being an assimilated and secular Jew in a catholic country (France). After exploring this theme head on [in paintings for a catholic church], I moved to investigate what the secular expression of this theme could evoke, and started to explore the interior of a house which my family bought in the center of France in 1975, and which has become our family home away from home.
This series centers on the table, at first with figures, and later without. The table represents the center around which the life of the house breathes. Someone will get up early, have coffee at the table and leave. Someone else will come later and be joined by another. Perhaps they have a breakfast conversation. Upon leaving they leave the breakfast fixings on the table for others… In such a way the day winds on, from breakfast to lunch to dinner. The rhythm of the house is written at the table, and these paintings record these events."
As the day passes, the light shifts. Emptiness and silence are followed by the quiet noise of human interaction. A warm ray of sunlight hits the floor below the fireplace. We can hear the silence of our breath.
In 1998 Daniel Kohn obtained, through the World Views program, a 6 month residency on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center's Tower 1.
"I had been painting very large still lives [from the Changy Interior series - see Table Horizon 1] in which the back of the table became a virtual horizon. Having wandered to the bar on floor 107 of the World Trade Center I was struck by the view looking east towards Brooklyn and beyond, to Far Rockaway and the sea. There was the horizon! I wondered what would happen if my large but intimate still life horizons met the "actual" horizon, which this view opened up. I imagined horizontal images, but had not reckoned with the force of the World trade Center's architecture. It was impossible to see the view without being aware of the vertical windows that framed it."
The first paintings of this series were started at the very end of the residency and finished the following months at another studio in Brooklyn. A body of etchings and drawings also developed in the course of a printmaking residency later that year where information was channeled back and forth between digital state and zinc plate. These early paintings framed the view over Brooklyn from his 91st floor lair. Their proportions mirror that of the windows of the tower and they seek to evoke the shifting of water, earth and sky as one moved before the windows of the World Trade Center.
A prominent feature was the way in which edge of the window created a second frame within the picture.
"As I worked on them I began to think of Japanese and Chinese screens; of the way branches are used to echo and disrupt the vertical format. Out of these concerns, and perhaps a rebellion against the primacy and power of the city, emerged a series of altogether different landscapes."
The later paintings of the Fragile Horizon series (shown in 2000 at the Chapelle des Dominicains in France - Brooklyn Trio 1 & 2, Brooklyn Quartet, Brooklyn Quintet, Chapel Quartet), explore the sculptural realm. They do not explode the canvas but instead array themselves in free hanging multiples conceived for particular locations. In the final Quintet, nature in its peace replaces the chaotic structure of the man made horizon. The vertigo of the view from the 91st floor is transformed into a horizontal one looking onto the still peace of water, sky and earth. All that remains of the original view is this suspension of earth between water and sky as framed by these very particular openings.
"These works were the beginning of an exploration generated by that place (the World Trade Center) and it's echo in paint, line, and in my own memory. They explore the encounter between the rhythms of the city and those of other landscapes from which I come. Instead of the temporally specific place of photographs, these paintings and drawings are about the multiplicity which emerges from the movement between places. They embody the swing from France (where I grew up) to New York (where I now live) and back in memory and imagination. The paintings for the Chapelle des Dominicains take this multiple resonance a step further by integrating the place for which they were painted into the ongoing dialog."
"Little did I know that two and a half years after my residency these would come carry an altogether different meaning. One where peace and stillness may evoke a terrible sense of loss. The point of view which they embody was destroyed in a terrible act which shook our society to its core. Like other works investigating the nature of this now disappeared place, they carry some of its existence within them, and as such carry some of the terrible meaning associated with their destruction. They represent the last images I made before the towers came down taking with them so many lives and the fundamental peace of mind which we had come to expect as our birthright. I have been practically incapable of painting since then and do not know what, for me, will rise from the ashes. I hope these images carry with them the hope that life can survive the follies of men."
Daniel Kohn is still living in New York City and currently working on a project, in collaboration with the MTA, for a public art piece for Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station.