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Craig Kauffman
Craig Kauffman: Early Drawings from the Estate
May 1-Jun 30, 2024
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Craig Kauffman: Early Drawings from the Estate

Throughout his career, Craig Kauffman used line drawing to define the forms in his paintings. A distinctive and highly improvised line was repeated in sketchbooks, single drawings, and paintings. The line was lyrical, free, and easy, from the earliest sketches of the 1950s until his last works. We are pleased to present an online exhibit of ink drawings from 1958, a pivotal group selected from the Kauffman Estate's holdings.

In all nine drawings, there is a loose, skipping line which defines form. Previous researchers and writers have often noted the direct relationship of this drawn line to the forms in the paintings. One reviewer, Leah Ollman, wrote that the broken line recalled "delicate weaves of horizontal bands and sinuous verticals in feathered lines reminiscent of those made by a pattern tracing wheel."
i The loose line in the drawings on paper is made with ink, and applied in thin, skipping gestures, something that Kauffman would carry over into other works.

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp wrote about the way the drawings translated to paint for a 1958 solo show which marked Kauffman's breakthrough in developing personal, sensual shapes in his abstract paintings:

"The broken line used in his drawings now gracefully defined these shapes, made with a pen dipped in liquefied oil paint. Similar intent is evident in Still Life with Electric Fan and Respirator. Despite its deceptively neutral title, an upside-down valentine is prodded by a phallic rod, both rendered in red and ochre next to the black outline of a fan, shaded in pale blue, on a sharp white background."ii

And the form which it defines seems to draw on multiple sources, none of which were prevalent in then-current West Coast abstraction. In a later statement during an interview with art historian Michael Auping, Kauffman gave his sources:

"They come from some sort of Dada influence, things that are around my apartment, and things I was interested in: kind of sexual, biomorphic mixture with mechanical things. Funny combinations of influences: I mean, Mondrian and Duchamp and Dada and Biomorphism and Abstract Expressionism all at once."

In the drawings, the biomorphic and sometimes sexual, body-like forms are mixed with a repetitive "bottle" form—something that Kauffman may have borrowed from Marcel Duchamp. Kauffman's first solo show at Ferus was from June 6 to July 5, 1958. It featured twelve paintings, including Tell Tale Heart and Still Life. "That was a really good show," Kauffman told Michael Auping. "That was my kick-off."

i Ollman, Leah. "Review: Voulkos and Kauffman close Frank Lloyd with a spark." Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2015
ii Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter. Sensual Mechanical: The Art of Craig Kauffman. Edited by Jana Martin. Santa Monica: Frank Lloyd Gallery, 2012
iii Auping, Michael. Los Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait. Craig Kauffman Interviewed by Michael Auping. Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles, 1976-1977