Ellen Kozak’s nearest neighbor, for a good deal of the year, is that great body of water, the Hudson River. Her relationship with the river, has, for the last eighteen years, been the source and inspiration for her art, in painting, artist’s books, and video work. It is a connection that has not only directed her as an artist, but also as a human being who bears responsibility for its wellbeing. She is a founding member of Riverkeeper’s Leadership Council, a watchdog and enforcement organization that helps to establish global standards for waterway and watershed protection. The most recent results of Kozak’s meditations can be seen in her solo show “Periodical” at Cross Contemporary Art in Saugerties. The show opened on May 28th and runs through June 22nd.
Kozak’s oil paintings walk the line between representation and abstraction. Her particular interest is in the equivalences in the behavior of her subject and her materials, “I use paint as a mimetic medium, letting it physically perform like my subject. Oil paint and water share properties of viscosity: paint directed by a brush emulates a river’s surface stirred by wind or pulled by tide.” In the paintings, thinly painted on wood panels that have been prepared with a hand-made dry gesso, rifts of shimmering color evoke movement and, in some cases, the vibration of light on water, in others, the unfathomable depths. Over the years that Kozak has engaged in this work, the paintings have become less representational and more abstract, more reductive. Movements of color and form that, in earlier paintings, were descriptive of the water’s curves and arabesques have, in this recent work, been distilled into quite formal abstracts, many with a strong linear movement, but generally remaining faithful to the horizontal surface of the river.
By contrast, Kozak’s work in video investigates the degree to which photographic images can be perceived as line, abstract marks, strokes, and calligraphic motifs. In an essay on her website, she wrote, “I use the river’s surface as a giant watery lens that assimilates reflections, colors, and patterns. And, like a lens, it collects activity from the sky above: the movements of clouds, fog, foliage, birds, planes in flight; and on the Hudson, barges transporting crude oil.” Her video, Notations on A River, a work commissioned by the Katonah Museum of Art, is on 24-hour display in the storefront gallery window. This piece is without sound as befits the video’s location in the gallery. But other video works of hers include scores by Composer Scott D. Miller – variations on hymn-based chords that, combined with the slowly morphing amorphous quality of the close-up videos of water, create a haunting meditation.
Ellen Kozak’s work can be found in many major museum and public collections throughout the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Museum of American Art/Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Art in Japan, as well as in institutional collections at Harvard and Yale. She is a professor of light, color and design at Pratt Institute, and she lives and works in New York City and New Baltimore, NY.
Featured Image: “Buttercream and Blood,” 2015. Oil on panel 27” x 30.5”
All images are courtesy of the artist. Artist’s website: here
Ellen Kozak “Periodical” runs through June 22nd
@ Cross Contemporary Art
81 Partition St. Saugerties, New York 12477
For more info see website: Or phone 845 399‑9751
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. Writing credits include contributing author to Teen Life in Europe (part of the Teen Life Around The World series), and articles and reviews for this publication. Claire Lambe’s art work can be seen here: