L E I F . K A T H ' S . A R T
By Eva Pohl
Writer, critic, MA, PhD
In the words of the writer Ernest Hemingway, it can be said that Leif Kath knows the quality of his art by looking at what he leaves out. This requires courage and a clear line of thought.
Leif Kath's art springs from passionate concentration. He is not a man who proclaims his skill. He lets the images speak for themselves. And they do so with convincing clarity in a non-figurative and beautiful language of vibrant life. In the artist's own words, it is about "reduction and concentration". Over the past few years his works have grown increasingly intense and supple in style. We find ourselves at the core of the artistic process when standing before paintings, drawings, graphic works or sculptures by Leif Kath. For he is not afraid to linger in the vibrant, creative field. In his own characteristic way of expressing it, he approaches this central, creative starting point with "curiosity and humility".
We are confronted with works by an artist who possesses a rare combination of great sensitivity and the ability to exclude all unnecessary noise. At this point Leif Kath can look back on an artistic career that includes numerous exhibitions at home and abroad, such as the comprehensive, prize-winning retrospective at the Brundlund Castle Museum of Art, Aabenraa, Denmark, remembered by the art-loving public for its beauty and atmosphere. The many exhibitions at gallery Weinberger, Copenhagen and Elizabeth Harris Gallery, New York have likewise made their mark.
The stylistic clarity and precision of the works testify to a highly conscious choice of pictorial elements and color combinations. The inspiration often arises from what is near at hand, experiences of architecture and innovative artworks of the past, but also from extended stays abroad, such as his residing at Civitella Ranieri, Italy, in an international, creative environment. A close look at Leif Kath's sophisticated, often minimalist paintings and graphic works in which a spiritual sphere opens, reveals a kinship with the simplicity and serenity of Japanese woodcuts and Japanese arts and crafts. Concentration is a key word in Japanese art, which is about absorption, not innovation. And absorption is a distinguishing feature of Leif Kath's work. But, as he once explained to the undersigned, it is also about knowing when to stop in relation to the individual work.
Wavy forms - a recurring motif in Japanese art - can be seen in Leif Kath's beautiful, large vases, made for an exhibition at Kähler's ceramic workshop in Næstved, Denmark, in 2001. The simplified and powerful black-and-white water and wave motifs of the vases give them an especially vivid, sensual and free expression. Wave motifs are also to be seen in his etched drawings of 2002. A poetic and universal quality is likewise accentuated in large ceramic dishes from the same period by motifs that call to mind the night sky. These dishes, related to the graphic works, were exhibited at the Trapholt museum in 2003. Leif Kath's works are interrelated, both literally and symbolically. He often reuses earlier motifs and reworks them in new ways, as in the important graphic series "Jardin de Versailles" of 1978, inspired by the park and featuring cone-shaped bushes, a sculpture, and a distinct perspective. The dreamlike atmosphere of the individual etchings, in which the prominence of the motif varies, adds a scenic, filmic quality. The composition of the Versailles series seems to provide the basis for several of Leif Kath's later works where he starts from a central point and works outward. This is the case in a series of lino-cuts, made in 2008/2009, where vibrant movements direct the viewer's gaze towards the center - towards a creative point of departure.
In 1971, Leif Kath co-founded an association of graphic artists Trykkerbanden (The Print Gang). Since then he has moved from figuration to a highly simplified form of expression. Leif Kath's art is based on a mixture of wonder and gratitude. In works executed in intimate formats he creates great beauty and a dynamic space by using clean cuts and minimal displacements, while keeping in mind the overall picture. He closes in on what might be called a sphere of possibilities, rather than making a point. He is not afraid to reach for the ineffable. This is what makes it so fascinating to follow his artistic output.
The significance of detail, the clear cuts, the underlying pulse and the deliberately unpretentious visual style are among the qualities that have led to the appreciation of Leif Kath's artistic endeavours _ in Denmark as well as abroad. The viewer creates an emotional space in the encounter with his art. Leif Kath has received several grants and held several positions of trust. He is thus the recipient of an honorary, lifelong annuity to artists, awarded to him by the Danish Arts Foundation for his persistent, highly reflective, artistic work, and in 2004 he received the Eckersberg Medal for his consistent and characteristic visual vocabulary. Leif Kath has been a representative in the Danish Arts Foundation, and a jury member as well as a regular member of the Academy Council in Denmark. He is a member of Den Frie Udstilling, a group of independent artists exhibiting in Copenhagen. His work is represented in the Collection of Prints at Statens Museum for Kunst (The National Museum of Art) and at the Trapholt Art Museum.
The rewarding encounter with Leif Kath's art conveys a feeling of standing on the threshold of new insight. There is light and life in the monochrome areas, and one is aware of the interplay of contrasts. An underlying energy projects a genuineness that is anything but loud. This requires the viewer to be open to the experience and the light. One is reminded of how the white paper in Paul Cezanne's watercolors plays an independent role in generating light and emphasizing immateriality. In Leif Kath's own words about the central areas of his works that appear to be without a motif: "Perhaps the indeterminate quality at the centre is what generates interest". The dynamic interplay between open and closed forms in Leif Kath's art brings to mind a significant passage in an essay by the Danish writer Inger Christensen, entitled "Part of the Labyrinth", in which she relates the earliest aesthetic experiences that sowed the seeds of her artistic work: "a wide meadow full of cuckoo flowers; an hour at noon when I was bouncing my large beach ball against the burning hot wall of a house; an evening of thunder when we were sitting in the kitchen eating strawberries". She views these early memories as three images: "the spacious, endless beauty; the purposeless energy; the security of not being in it alone." These invaluable, aesthetic experiences that hold such emotional depth in Inger Christensen's writing are surrounded by a light that speaks to Leif Kath's work.
As a viewer of Leif Kath's art, one can have the feeling of being on his wavelength. This does not mean that it has to be shouted out loud.