Ellen Kozak “Vigil: New Paintings”
David Richard Gallery
Nov. 27, 2023 - Dec. 23, 2021
David Richard Gallery is pleased to present Vigil: New Paintings by Ellen Kozak, her first solo exhibition with the gallery and debut of her newest series, Barges, Tugs and Tankers. The series consists of 28 small horizontal oil paintings on panel measuring 13 x 22 inches, 19 of which are presented along with 8 near-square oil paintings on panel that measure roughly 27 x 30 to 29 x 33 inches.
Kozak’s paintings are rooted in color, specifically the interaction between reflected color and the surface of water. The surface of water is dynamic and ever changing, especially along the bank of the Hudson River near Hudson, New York, where the artist’s studio has been located for 25 years. Perceptions of color, color interactions and spatial depth change, responding to surface conditions, moonlight, sunlight, and the spreading illumination from the nighttime river traffic. The incidence of those light sources throughout the day and night, the spectrum and quality of seasonal light, the effects of wind, and activity from commercial vessels are fundamental influences and components in Kozak’s paintings. The passage of barges, tugs and tankers is particularly stunning at night, when the reflected lights from these vessels illuminate the river. The drama of these nocturnal scenes has inspired Kozak to begin a series of night paintings on which she has been working on since the beginning of the pandemic.
While the river is her subject and a source for the palette of each painting, color itself becomes the means for abstraction. Kozak captures the energy and sensation of the river through her use of its reflective surface to assimilate the physical and optical behaviors of water and light. Her wide strokes of paint move across the painting’s surface replicating the flow and movement of her subject. Kozak introduces linear elements to express other empirical observations, including natural phenomena on the river’s surface such as glitter, glare and the visual phenomena of after-image. Kozak’s practice of painting onsite has translated into a deep concern and activism for protecting the Hudson; such vigilance led to the exhibition title.
The larger paintings, in a ratio of 7/8 noted above, are from the same source, the Hudson River alongside the artist’s studio. These are mostly begun in the early morning and often continue late into the day. While Kozak paints onsite these are not plein air paintings. Spanning from 2017 through 2020, these compositions also differ from the night paintings in that they are nearly square.
Water is illusory in and of itself, it is in constant motion. Its surface is equally illusory, depending upon natural and manmade phenomena; it can be still or turbulent, fast-moving or slow, transparent or turbid, smooth or textured. Kozak depicts no horizons in her work. All the color in Kozak’s paintings is derived solely through indirect observation, using the river’s surface as mirror or lens. Yet, these abstract works maintain the essence of their empirical origin.