Works
Overview

Kaethe Kauffman’s art, generative and generous, engenders
experiences of repose, contemplation and mystery for the beholder.

Kaethe Kauffman’s
Visual Meditations

The art that Kaethe Kauffman has been working on for the past few
years has several striking characteristics. Firstly, the sensation of
resonance permeates her works in variable intensities as all of her
artworks have a pronounced optically reverberatory tenor matched by
a luminescent quality. Secondly, the spreading out of such light, of
illumination, a glowing attribute or ingredient, recalls an auratic
propensity. It somehow feels right, as the aura might be felt as
relating to a corresponding numinous experience --- a sense of awe
and wonderment --- evoked by Kauffman for her viewers through her
artworks. Thirdly, the artist has a gift for imbuing everything she
touches or composes (using digital manipulation of forms and colors,
photographs, paintings, drawings, prints) with uncanny predetermined
significance. Fourthly, aiding and abetting all of this is the artist’s
capacity to induce sensory exploration on the part of the viewer.
Kauffman does this while resisting grand pictorialism and piercing
existential moments in favor of lyrical exhilaration, like breathing. The
end result is lively, finished works that are at once elevating,
energizing, soothing, mystifying, and fascinating all at once. Finally,
the artist has the remarkable capacity of creating imagery that lingers
in the mind long after the spectator has turned away and receded
from the actual physical encountering of the art object. This persistent
eidetic imagery sustains itself within the thresholds separating the
consciousness and the unconsciousness of the viewer. One may
argue that this take-away on the part of the viewer might be the
numinous experience itself and is well-suited to enliven Kauffman’s
artistic intentionality which she reveals in her notes: “…Religious art
glorifies the sacred experience. My imprint is personal and through
my process, it is my inner world which is revealed for all to see.”

Her images, while diverse, have definite engagements with repeated,
collaged, syncopated configurations (Working Meditation 2, 2018 and
Working Meditation Hammers, 2020) and with suggestive
compositions, forms, colors and outlines that infer an indwelling of
dualities, or the dialectics of inside and outside (Hourglass Scrolls,
2017), as well as an exploration of negative and positive spaces
(Canelle Quad, 2017) used for optimal visual impact. Additionally,
Kauffman’s artistry creates incantatory, wildly colorful shapes and
contours. They reference meditative positions of the body (as in her
archival prints Two Direction Meditation, 2017 and Strong Meditation
Double, 2017) that incite continuous viewing if not outright
concentration on the part of the spectator. In her engrossing vibrantly
colored mixed media print Heart Sutra Surrender, 2020, Kauffman
introduces the figure of a centralized lotus-positioned sitting figure.
This manipulated image has been cut up, dismembered and reunited
with itself in a flurry of limbs thus suggesting the struggle and
resistances that occurs while meditating that demands the
surrendering of the mind, a letting go of thoughts. Floating on the
pictorial surface as palimpsest is a superimposition of black and white
photographs of surrendering German troops to the Russians in World
War as well as verses from a Heart Sutra scroll which, as the artist
writes in her notes “…is about the Buddha’s compassion for our
suffering.”

Through her arsenal of visual effects Kaethe Kauffman invokes an
out-of-time feeling of suspension, as in her Muscle Movement Series.
These Cibachromes depict the results of an action of a string dipped
in paint and wound around an isolated body part (finger, wrist, knees,
back, neck, arm) of a female figure sitting in a lotus pose, a Yoga
posture of meditation. What the camera captures is the smearing,
smudging, blurring of an ink and pigment-drenched string line
occurring during the subtle shifts in posture over time on the part of
the model. This visual record, reminiscent of scarification and tattoos,
creates riveting photo-based images that also recall on some level
body mappings that visually have a dramatic fetishistic and totemic
power. Kauffman’s unrelenting close-ups of fingers, hands and
backs, (for example Muscle Movements: Fingers Blue,2018/Muscle
Movement: Black Back 6, 2018) are images impossible to negate or
ignore. Their “otherness” condition attracts and repels as these prints

of brightly lit, close-up body-images, resolutely cropped and isolated
have a specimen quality seen in laboratory reports or in police mug
shots. They hold their positions on evenly lit pictorial fields intimating
the world of forensic evidence or stills from a documentary film.
Kaethe Kauffman’s art, generative and generous, engenders
experiences of repose, contemplation and mystery for the beholder.
Her other intensely realized artworks, reverberate with singular
authority and poetry --- all in the service of invoking sacral feelings of
unification and culminating sensations of centering.
--- Dominique Nahas

Video
Biography

Kauffman’s work has developed in a number of phases, all concentrating on the connection between the body and the mind. 

Kaethe Kauffman’s art focuses on the human body, in its physical reality and as a vehicle for meditative practice. Her Cibachromes, inkjet and mixed media works combine disparate images into new, mysterious forms that suggest a letting go of the self.

 

Kauffman was born in Cheverly, Maryland in 1948 and grew up in Seattle. As a child she was an excellent dancer and was strongly drawn to the visual arts, although she did not receive encouragement for her artistic interests. At age ten, she was taught meditation in a single lesson by a distant visiting cousin who was a doctor. Kauffman cites learning to meditate as “the main formative childhood experience” that was to influence her art. She writes, “I immediately loved it and practiced it every day; it became a refuge.”

 

At the University of Washington, where she majored in Far Eastern studies, Kauffman combined her meditation practice with her involvement with dance and yoga. She was hesitant to study art, and instead worked as a life model, absorbing the professors’ lessons, and painting and drawing the figure on her own. Kauffman went on to earn her BA in studio art at the University of Las Vegas, where she studied the social classes of showgirls, and worked with them to create artwork based on their experiences. Kauffman continued her conceptual feminist work in Los Angeles, where she lived until 1981. She received a MFA from University of California, Irvine and a PhD in Art History from Union Institute in Cincinnati. She taught extensively on the college level before moving to Honolulu in 1994, where she has been inspired by the dance and tattoo art of Hawaii.

 

Kauffman’s work has developed in a number of phases, all concentrating on the connection between the body and the mind. While living in Los Angeles in the 1970s, she made life-sized drawings based on her experience as a runner, depicting alpha states of consciousness. She also created images of female figures in yoga and meditation postures. Her close-up muscle studies showed impressions of long held yoga movements on each joint of the body. The artist continues to develop these bodies of work, along with a landscape series.

 

In 1980, a drowning accident in which her boyfriend died and which nearly took Kauffman’s own life, was the impetus for Into the Light, a series which confronts mortality and transcendence. In its present form, the series has silhouettes of meditating figures progressively filled with light. In the mid-1990s, Kauffman began the series Muscle Movement Meditation, which uses paint-soaked string affixed to parts of the body. When the muscles move, the off-printed paint records the motion on the body. This approach continues to manifest itself in a wide range of series in which multiple images combine into complex works that evoke the merging of individual experience with cosmic consciousness.

 

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