Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting is a new major traveling retrospective of the paintings of the founding British artist (1926 – 2019). Inaugurated at Annely Juda Fine Art in London on September 30, it will travel to New York and Los Angeles in early 2022. The exhibition includes 58 works and will be the first posthumous exhibition and the largest of Kossoff’s paintings in a commercial setting at this day, and coincides with the publication of Léon Kossoff: Catalog Raisonné des Peintures à l’Huile published by Modern Art Press. The exhibition is curated by Andrea Rose, former director of visual arts at the British Council and editor of the catalog raisonné.
Leon Kossoff is recognized as one of the world’s greatest post-war figurative painters
Leon Kossoff is recognized as one of the world’s greatest post-war figurative painters with an appreciation for the daily activities of life, finding poignant and beautiful in seemingly mundane urban settings. Born in central London to a family of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, his childhood was centered on his experiences of the working class, helping with his father’s bakery and then serving in the British Army in the 1940s. After returning to London, Kossoff attended St. Martin’s School of Art. However, he supplemented his studies by taking David Bomberg’s classes at Borough Polytechnic, where he was instructed to focus on experiences rather than appearances.
With the artists Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, David Hockney and RB Kitaj, Kossoff became known at the end of the 1970s as part of the “School of London”. Having lived his life in London (from where he rarely traveled), his paintings of his hometown are rendered with the familiarity of a close friend. Complicated, at times gloomy, but still vital and teeming with activity, Kossoff’s paintings reflect the transformation of London, spanning from post-war desolation to international wealth towards the end of the 20th century.
“What makes Leon’s works so unique, and in fact so contemporary, is that they breathe new life into the notion of figurative painting,” said exhibition curator and catalog raisonné editor Andrea Rose . “We see the interplay between external reality and freshly acquired internal perception. Kossoff does not only perceive the world around him; it regenerates it. There is a thrill to this; the ordinary made important. ‘Maybe’, as he said, ‘everything is beautiful’.
Spanning sixty years, Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting highlights some of the critical moments in Kossoff’s career. From post-war bombs and construction sites to crowded swimming pools, churches, metro stations and the hectic hustle and bustle of street life, the paintings passionately trace more than half a century of change. and development, mainly centered in the London boroughs of Dalston, Willesden, Kilburn and Whitechapel. What makes Kossoff’s paintings so contemporary is their interplay between observed reality and imaginative zeal, where, according to Kossoff, “all differences boil down to some sort of presence.”
The exhibition ends with previously unseen paintings from the Arnold Circus area and Kossoff’s back garden, including his latest painting, Cherry Tree in Spring (2015). In addition to the London landscapes, the exhibition includes portraits of the painter’s mother and father, his wife Peggy (also known as Rosalind), the writer NM Seedo, his painter friend John Lessore, his faithful models Fidelma, Pilar and Cathy, as well as several self-portraits. In all of these works, Kossoff seeks a way to bring together a myriad of experiences into a single image, with each brushstroke telling the story of the doubt and opportunity that went into their making, all threatening to dissolve into one. ephemeral abstraction at any time. “It’s the object of all painting,” Kossoff said in a rare 2010 interview. “It’s the space and light occupied by human presences. ”
Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting will be the third collaborative exhibition of works by Leon Kossoff organized in partnership between Annely Juda Fine Art (London), Mitchell-Innes & Nash (New York) and LA Louver (Los Angeles). Previous traveling exhibitions co-presented by the three galleries include Leon Kossoff: Recent Works 1999 – 2010 (2010-2011) and Leon Kossoff: London Landscapes (2013-2014).
The exhibition coincides with the release of Leon Kossoff: Catalog Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, the 642-page comprehensive account of the artist’s paintings, edited by Andrea Rose and published by Modern Art Press, London.
Photos: PC Robinson © Artlyst 2021
Léon Kossoff: A Life in Painting Annely Juda Fine Art September 30 – December 4, 2021