Wyatt Kahn’s wall-based works evade some old categories and challenge a few new ones. One might at first think that these works fit within the minimalist or monochrome canon, but they don’t. They also resist the screen-based erasure of variable surface and material interaction. The Support/Surface artists may come to mind, or Barry Le Va and Elizabeth Murray, but here there is no desire to deconstruct the basic properties of painting or to reveal its underlying mechanisms. Kahn pieces these together, leaving the differing means through which this is accomplished openly visible with surfaces that are graphically marked and layered with oil stick or wax-filled oil paint. The raw surfaces—canvas, lead—expose the nature, strength and quality of these tactile and inherently contrasting materials that are two entirely different kinds of soft.
The questions and curiosity that motivate Kahn to piece together complex compositions through shifts in scale, the same shape repeated at another size, is evident in You and You (2019) an 88-by-61-inch canvas. Two similarly profiled shapes, one larger than the other, overlap to form one overall shape. Black oil stick drawn over lead panels defines the larger shape that reads as a doubling or shadow behind the smaller foregrounded shape, also of lead panels, but not drawn over this time.
Questions of constructed image and object happily coexist. The painstakingly applied oil stick catches the light as radiating lines and texture, while the lead has a subdued sheen. Both are almost delicate. Though Kahn uses materials that can signal an aggressive or expressionistic presence rather than a stable contingency of hand-constructed shape, the result is fragile rather than bombastic. The tensile and dynamic relationships between the curved and angular shapes make up the overall piece through their interlocking.
Untitled (2019) is another large work at 88 1/2 × 61 inches. Here, a rectangle of individual lead is marked over panel shapes of sheet metal that have been fabricated into art. As with Günther Förg’s lead on panel paintings, Kahn avails himself of the random facture found incidentally on oxidized and scratched lead—full of arbitrary beauty in and of itself, offering a foil to intentional composition—in piecing together this patchwork of panels that each catch light differently. The dark or light of each panel determines a shift in space and color across the subtly variegated surface. It appears as a textile stitched together, rather than some sort of wall of armor. The slightly varied gaps between the abutting panels surprisingly create what appears as lines of swift, spontaneous drawing. There is a sense of resourceful improvised and post-industrial use of the now superseded raw materials of that moment.
Looning (2019) is an assembly of closely fitted linen on panel shapes, each concentric layer receding from the thicker outer ring, with some internal spaces that make the piece porous to the wall on which it is situated. The butting together again produces lines that act like a drawing, projecting across the surface diagonally, in counterpoint to the way the panels fit together to form a radiating structure. The inventive, playful and precise construction recalls some of Cordy Ryman’s less assertively chromatic works. The framed graphic pieces—Untitled (2019) for example, in graphite and correction fluid on frosted Mylar—display Kahn’s interest in the painterly and spatial aspects of painting. They are not supplementary to the wall based constructions but are rather, with far less materially dimensional means, a frugal way to combine a two dimensional exploration of jig sawed and contrasted shape and substance. Perhaps unexpectedly, the leanness and directness of this exhibition ultimately enhances through difference and repetition the subtlety of each work’s color, surface texture and reaction to light.