Portraits of the Artist: The Work of Carl Köhler

Emily Colette Wilkinson in The Millions:

Franz-KafkaOnce you have seen the astonishingly evocative portraits of the neo-Modernist painter Carl Köhler (1919-2006), you will wonder how he died relatively unknown outside of his native Sweden. Such are the vagaries of the art world: Andy Warhol‘s rather uninteresting 200 One Dollar Bills sells for over 40 million dollars, while the remarkable author portraits of Carl Köhler go all but unnoticed.

But this, perhaps, is changing. Thanks to the efforts of his son, Henry, Köhler’s work has made its way outside of Sweden for the first time. If you live in New York, you might have seen “Beyond the Words: The Author Portraits of Carl Köhler” at the Brooklyn Central Library this past winter and spring, or the write-up in The New York Times’ blog Paper Cuts. The show was also briefly at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, in Washington, D.C., in July and August. Now, this exhibit is on its way to Canada: Its next stop is the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto (January-March 2010). After that, the show’s on to the University of British Columbia’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre in Vancouver (April-June/July 2010). With any luck, these shows will not be the last.

While Köhler’s figure drawings from his time in Paris in the 1950′s are remarkable, as are his abstract figural paintings, it is what he called his “authorportraits,” his paintings of European and American writers, intellectuals, and popular artists that I am most taken with—as much for their content as for their formal diversity. These portraits comprise an astonishing variety of media and styles, a variety that reflects the variety of Köhler’s subjects, who included James Joyce, Günter Grass, Joyce Carol Oats, Michael Jackson, Simone de Beauvoir, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, among many others.

More here. [Photo shows portrait of Franz Kafka.]