Cactus Blooming, Lake Beyond – Jakki Kouffman
The Awakening from Monochromatic to High Chroma
One of the most distinct characteristics of Jakki Kouffman’s work is color. Plumes of pink cotton candy clouds rise over a cliff of rust and cream striated rock. Turquoise, tiger-striped rivers flow through carved out canyons freckled with emerald gems for bushes. Color, however, was not always Jakki’s means of expression. In her early twenties, Jakki won the SACHAR International scholarship, which allowed her to pursue art in Italy. She was in a monochromatic mode and used no color in the beginning at all. A classically trained artist, Jakki gravitated toward sculpture – stone and bronze casting, carving, modeling and etching.
It wasn’t until her move back to the States that a new path emerged. She chose New York, not incredibly far from her home state of Massachusetts, but far enough to turn a completely new page. She sought out art school and studied under Daniel Greene, a great classic portrait painter. Greene became her Master Teacher and through him, Jakki picked up oil painting and then, more importantly, the pastel medium. She learned to use pastel as a high art, expressive tool. Jakki remained with Greene for four years and became his classroom assistant, which included some teaching as well.
Jakki grew incredibly interested in volumetric form and worked through a series called “The Floaters,” that consisted of objects of the natural world and geometric objects floating through invented interiors. Jakki incorporated a trick of the eye tradition to show vegetables, shells and flowers floating through the air, trickling toward (or away) from a window that framed the natural world. The landscape was a small portion of her Floater series, albeit a focal point. Jakki was actually taking her sculpting skills and applying them to painting and enriching them with color. Much like travel was the catalyst for Jakki’s shift from monochromatic to high chroma works, so was travel the means by which Jakki felt an urge to make landscapes more of a focus.
An Invented, Heightened & Imagined Presentation of the Natural World
Bright Cliffs, Morning Glow – Jakki Kouffman
She traveled through Colorado, Oregon and California and it was as though the great expanse of the west opened a door for Jakki, allowing her to venture past her invented interiors. “I started to find myself more attracted to the places I began to travel out west. So I came to Santa Fe in the mid-80s, just for an afternoon, but absolutely loved it – and Colorado cathartically illuminated to me the open space. I felt this real compulsion to expand the space I was feeling my way into.”
She painted plein air, in the western vastness and her awakening to the freedom of the natural world played a huge role in her work. Acrylic emerged as her preferred medium and remains primary to this day, which brings us to her present series – a study on Texture and Chroma through Rock and River. Using a palette knife, Jakki incorporated texture into her work, which also became a way to employ her sculpting skills yet again. Acrylic also lends itself well to glazing and layering, two methods that are key to Jakki’s ethereal landscapes. Adding texture breathes a new dimension into Jakki’s work, allowing the paintings to almost come off the surface.
She manipulates the paint almost like clay, letting it evolve and emerge into multi-dimensions. It is safe to say that Jakki’s current body of work represents a less than traditional landscape. “The colors are accentuated, highlighted and amplified beyond the color that you might report across a photograph. They are something more invented, something that’s moved through the imagination – something that’s been changed by a heightened experience,” Jakki explains.
It’s Not What the Artist Sees; Rather, It’s What She Makes Us See
The Gorge At Taos, Looking North – Jakki Kouffman
Jakki doesn’t paint what she sees. She says, “I’m painting my enthusiasm of what I see.” What the viewer gets to take in is the artist’s heightened response to her experiences in nature. She feels that the best way to translate her enthusiasm is through a much less literal feel. Her works have an identifiable location, but a much less fathomable experience that Jakki hopes each person can bring their own interpretation to. Jakki says, “I don’t paint until I feel the structure of the place. I experience landscape as a sculpture. Because I have a classical training, I can transcribe what I see, so I always start with what I know to be true – because I know how to achieve that – it’s something I’ve honed as a skill for a long time, and it’s the journalistic side, the descriptive side, the factoid. The factoid is the launch pad for what I’m interested in. And what I’m interested in is expressionistic traditions.”
It is the jumping off from the purely factual – the who, what, where and when – to the personalization of what Jakki knows to be true. Jakki is drawn to the saying, ‘It’s not what you see, it’s what you make others see.’ She explains, “I’d like people to understand that I have an affection for place and that my affection extended to many hours of reflection on the ground in those places, in order to really understand the nature of the space, but also, my approach is quite formalistic in the sense that I’m as interested in picture structure and point application as I am with people saying, ‘Oh I know where she painted that.’ I’ll start from there, but then I’ll just spin off in order to reflect on my experience. I run through the sieve of memory and reinvention.”
Jakki doesn’t paint sites; instead she seeks out dramatic perch places, heightened positions from which she can look down on some great expanse. She’d rather capture the gestalt of a region than paint verbatim a place with a name. She’s interested in how the color goes down, what’s next to it, and how her textured marks agitate the surface. She lets the fresh air inhabit her strokes and thoughts.