James Kandt’s “Abstract Realism”: Best of Two Worlds

Written by: Maurice Taplinger

In contrast to many artists today, who begin showing their work right out of art school, James Kandt has been painting for many years, but has only recently begun exhibiting. While working as an art director for a company in Hollywood that was a pioneer in the development of computer animation, and later running his own design firm, Kandt patiently perfected his technique until he felt ready to share his work with the world. The results of his long creative hibernation can be seen in "Elemental Realms," at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from October 26 through November 15, with a reception on Thursday, November 1, from 6 to 8 PM.

Kandt's "Landshape Series" evolved from his long term interest in abstract painting. As with many artists of his generation, one can only assume that his primary influence was Abstract Expressionism, the movement that put American painting on the map. However, the personal synthesis that he has come to refer to as "abstract realism" also harks back, in spirit if not in style, to earlier artists like Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and Georgia O'Keeffe, pioneering modernists who never abandoned their roots in nature. The oil on panel that Kandt calls "Untitled Landshape No. 5," in particular, is reminiscent of O'Keeffe's famous painting of a pine tree viewed from the forest floor for its vertiginous perspective. Kandt, however, combines a finer focused photorealism with a nearly monochromatic palette of earth tonalities to make his painting simultaneously more specific and abstract than that of his predecessor. And by violating the old academic rule that an artist should avoid "monotony" by never painting in a perfectly square panel, Kandt lends his 48" by 48" composition a sense of limitless space that actually enhances its abstract qualities.

The paradox of the particular merged with the stringently formal is very much at the heart of Kandt's abstract realist style, which makes intimate capital of the surfaces of the trees that are his sole subjects, even while distancing them somewhat from the conventions of realism by virtue of his coloristic restraint and dramatic compositional cropping. Photography and computer manipulation also play a part in the early stages of his oils, enabling him to work out formal solutions regarding color and compositions before putting brush to panel. Yet, for all the deliberation that precedes the painting process, Kandt's compositions finally achieve a dynamic sense of "push and pull" that is very much akin to Abstract Expressionism. However, the painter of that school with whom he appears to have the most in common is Franz Kline, best known for his black and white calligraphic abstractions, which appeared spontaneous but were actually carefully planned and executed from sketches that the artist projected onto the canvas with an opaque projector. It seems a logical evolution from that kind of process to Kandt's abstract realism, in which the tree-trunks and branches, although meticulously delineated down to the most detailed textures of the bark, display a thrusting velocity every bit as dynamic as Kline's girder-like black forms.

Like Andrew Wyeth, who once stated that his ostensibly realist paintings were full of "little abstractions," James Kandt succeeds splendidly in having it both ways.

Image Credits: UNTITLED LANDSHAPE NO. 5 - Oil on Panel 48" x 48"

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