The Artist Book Foundation (TABF) proudly presents its latest exhibition, ROBERT KIPNISS: Shades of Nature, in coordination with the tenth anniversary of its publication, Robert Kipniss: Paintings and Poetry, 1950–1964. This compelling retrospective offers art enthusiasts a rare opportunity to explore the life and artistic evolution of acclaimed painter, printmaker, and recognized poet Robert Kipniss, and features a selection of his works from different periods of his illustrious career.
Robert Kipniss is a renowned figure in the art world, recognized for his exceptional contributions as a painter, printmaker, and poet. Since his first exhibition in New York in 1951, Kipniss has had over 200 solo shows. His printmaking began with lithographs, but since 1990, he has worked almost exclusively in intaglio, with the majority of his prints being mezzotints. The forms in his work are reduced to essentials and his subject matter may be trees close up or at a distance, landscapes, bridges, or interiors. His use of exceptionally subtle black-and-white tones creates atmospheric effects of solitude and introspection. Throughout his career, Kipniss has left an indelible mark on the art community with his distinctive style and profound vision, making him a notable influence in the realm of visual expression.
Kipniss’s works are represented in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the New Orleans Museum of Art; the British Museum; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; and the Pinakothek Moderne, Munich, among others. He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1980 and to the Royal Society of Painters–Printmakers, London, in 1998. He lives in New York and Connecticut.
ROBERT KIPNISS: Shades of Nature delves into two significant periods of Kipniss’s artistic career. The exhibition opens with a visual exploration of the young poet and painter discovering his artistic voice during the 1950s and 1960s. On the gallery wall opposite the paintings, three poems featured in the Robert Kipniss: Paintings and Poetry, 1950–1964 book are exhibited for visitors to read and ponder. This display mirrors the interplay and the contrasts between his paintings and poetry, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the artist’s differing visual and literary expressions, thereby enriching the journey through his artistic realm. The early drawings and paintings offer a profound insight into this critical phase of Kipniss’s career when he made the pivotal decision to devote himself entirely to painting.
He recalls that “while I found the act of writing poetry painful—no doubt because I was writing about the anger and darkness within me—I found only pleasure and excitement in painting. In the very act of putting paint on canvas I found an exuberant and unrestrained exploration of form, color, texture, and emotion—all of it intense and thrilling. . . . It stunned me to see that when I stopped writing poetry, my paintings turned dark and surreal, filled with foreboding and anger—eerie, aggressive, and imbued with the emotions of the poetry I was no longer writing.”
The exhibition also presents Kipniss’s foray into the medium of printmaking, which he reluctantly began in 1967 but for which he ultimately developed a deep affinity. Visitors to TABF’s gallery will have the opportunity to appreciate early print works, highlighting the artist’s enduring passion for printmaking that has resulted in over 750 editions in drypoint, etching, lithography, and mezzotint.
In addition to early works, ROBERT KIPNISS: Shades of Nature unveils later works of the 1990s and 2000s that explore the refined and ephemeral landscapes of Kipniss’s mature style. While the artist quit painting in 2018 due to the physical challenges of standing for long stretches at the easel, he continues to draw and make prints. As ever, the majesty of trees and the transformative power of the natural world remains central to his practice.
Kipniss’s engrossing book, Robert Kipniss: Paintings and Poetry, 1950–1964, is the result of many arduous months of revisiting his writing from more than half a century ago, poems that he stashed away and essentially forgot. “Writing was a struggle: a few lines, maybe six or seven, and then rewriting followed by more rewriting before going on. . . . Some of the poems are straightforward, some are infused with surreal irony, and some are angry,” says the artist in his candid and honest preface to the book. Thoughtful and articulate from conception to completion, his never-before-published poems are choreographed with his early paintings in the exhibition’s contemplation of the influential and foundational years from 1950 to 1964. “When I stopped writing [in 1961] my vision was no longer divided between word-thinking and picture-thinking: these approaches had merged and in expressing myself I was more whole,” reflects Kipniss in his reflective musings.
Readers of this gorgeous volume are all the richer for catching a glimpse of an intensely personal segment of this accomplished artist’s private history. In an unambiguous assessment, Kipniss elaborates: “The most significant insight that arose in this undertaking . . . came when I began to collate reproductions of my paintings of the 1950s. I could clearly see that my work in the two mediums was from very different parts of my psyche, and that while they were both in themselves completely engaged, they were not in any way together.”
This written and visual account of previously unpublished poems and early paintings, which received critical acclaim, are accompanied by two astute and illustrative essays by Marshall N. Price and Robin Magowan, that will further inform readers familiar with this highly respected American artist as well as those just discovering the beauty and mystery of his work. Price was curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Academy Museum in New York, New York and is now the curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Magowan is an award-winning poet based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is the author of 10 books of poetry as well as two collections of travel writing and two books on bicycle racing.
ROBERT KIPNISS: Shades of Nature is a must-see exhibition for anyone passionate about the enduring allure of visual expression and the timeless legacy of a remarkable artist. Admission to TABF’s gallery is always free and all are welcome.
The Artist Book Foundation (TABF) is a nonprofit art book publisher that celebrates artists’ lives and work through publications, related exhibitions, and public programs. TABF works collaboratively with artists, museum curators, art historians, and collectors to develop catalogues raisonnés, monographs, surveys, and exhibition catalogues. It is dedicated to preserving, promoting, and celebrating the artistic legacy of acclaimed as well as underrepresented artists. With a focus on producing artist-centered publications that delve into the lives and works of these remarkable individuals, TABF plays a vital role in fostering appreciation for the arts and their lasting impact on culture and society. Additionally, TABF’s book donations program provides access to the arts to the widest audience possible by delivering thousands of copies of their publications to underserved public libraries, schools, and prisons across the country.
The importance of artist books is not in question, but their existence could be if they are not published by a nonprofit whose mission is to ensure their future and to capture the legacy that is found on the page—print and digital—for generations to come. If you consider that museums are run as nonprofits for the common good, rather than to satisfy shareholders, then you can appreciate what inspired the creation of The Artist Book Foundation. Connecting artist books with markets worldwide is essential and easier than ever as the foundation has contacts internationally to ensure that promotion, sales, distribution, and specialized content reach all corners of the globe.
It is critical to be where the art world is getting the greatest attention and setting the highest standards. Located on the campus of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), TABF’s scholarly publications help to inspire and develop a growing interest in the arts. Art historians, museum curators, and other experts in their fields author and contribute to all of the foundation’s richly illustrated books, with the ultimate goal of clearly communicating the artist’s practice. The foundation partners with artists, galleries, museums, and others to create publications of exceptional quality and design. The books are supported financially through these partnerships to produce the most comprehensive presentation of an artist’s history and work.