Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting Major New Touring Retrospective Opens

Leon Kossoff Artlyst

Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting is a major new touring retrospective of paintings by the seminal British artist (1926 – 2019). Opening at Annely Juda Fine Art in London on 30 September, it will travel to New York and Los Angeles in early 2022. The show comprises 58 works and will be the first posthumous and most extensive exhibition of Kossoff’s paintings in a commercial setting to date, and coincides with the publication of Leon Kossoff: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings released by Modern Art Press. The exhibition is curated by Andrea Rose, former Director of Visual Arts at the British Council and editor of the catalogue raisonné.

Leon Kossoff is recognised as one of the world’s greatest Post-War figurative painters

Leon Kossoff is recognised as one of the world’s greatest Post-War figurative painters with an appreciation of life’s everyday activities, finding poignancy and beauty in seemingly mundane urban settings. Born in Central London to a family of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, his childhood was centred in his working-class experiences, helping with his father’s bakery and then serving in the British military in the 1940s. Following his return to London, Kossoff attended St. Martin’s School of Art. However, he supplemented his studies attending David Bomberg’s classes at Borough Polytechnic, where he was instructed to focus on experiences rather than just appearances.

Leon Kossoff Demolition of YMCA Building no# 1971
Leon Kossoff Demolition of YMCA Building no# 1971

Together with the artists Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, Kossoff became known in the late 1970s as part of the “School of London.” Having lived his lifetime in London (from which he rarely travelled), his paintings of his native city are rendered with the familiarity of a close friend. Complicated, sometimes bleak, but always vital and teeming with activity, Kossoff’s paintings reflected London’s transformation, stretching from post-war desolation to international affluence towards the end of the 20th century.

“What makes Leon’s works so singular, and indeed so contemporary, is that they give new life to the notion of representational painting,” said the exhibition curator and editor of the catalogue raisonné Andrea Rose. “We see in them the interplay between external reality and internal perception freshly achieved. Kossoff doesn’t just perceive the world around him; he regenerates it. There’s a thrill to it; the ordinary made momentous. ‘Perhaps’, as he said, ‘everything is beautiful.'”

Spanning sixty years, Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting casts light on some of the critical moments in Kossoff’s career. From postwar bomb and construction sites to crowded swimming pools, churches, Underground stations and the restless bustle of street life, the paintings passionately chart over half a century of change and development, primarily centred in the London neighbourhoods 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 the differences amount to a sort of presence.”

Leon Kossoff Railway Landscape near Kings Cross 1968
Leon Kossoff Railway Landscape near Kings Cross 1968

The exhibition concludes with some never-before-seen paintings of the Arnold Circus area and Kossoff’s back garden, including his last ever painting, Cherry Tree in Spring (2015). In addition to London landscapes, the exhibition includes portraits of the painter’s mother and father, his wife Peggy (also known as Rosalind), the writer N.M Seedo, his painter friend John Lessore, his faithful sitters Fidelma, Pilar and Cathy, as well as several self-portraits. In all these works, Kossoff searches for a way to bring myriad experiences together in a single image, every brushstroke telling the story of doubt and opportunity that went into their making, all of them threatening to dissolve into fleeting abstraction at any given moment. “That’s what all painting is about,” said Kossoff in a rare interview in 2010. “It’s space and light occupied by human presences.”

Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting will be the third collaborative exhibition of works by Leon Kossoff organised in partnership between Annely Juda Fine Art (London), Mitchell-Innes & Nash (New York) and L.A. Louver (Los Angeles). Previous travelling 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: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, the comprehensive 642-page account of the artist’s paintings, edited by Andrea Rose and published by Modern Art Press, London.

Photos: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2021

Leon Kossoff: A Life in Painting Annely Juda Fine Art 30 September – 4 December 2021

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