Printmaker Lynne Kortenhaus is exhibiting 10 of her pieces at the Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown as an homage to her memories of the past. The theme she says is “homeward.”
“It’s rare these days to hear someone say they had a lovely childhood but mine was idyllic,” the artist said. Her Kortenhaus grandfather, a land surveyor, farmed 26 acres of New Jersey land. Lynne helped him, picking (and eating) the fruits and vegetables. (She liked the raspberries best.) Her father ranched mink. She got to nurse babies rejected by mums, and with her father holding on to adults, pet their soft furry middles. The family would head into New York city for museums and to shop. On the way back they’d stop at a blueberry farm (eponymously named) where her mum would get oodles of berries for pies and pancakes. Her grandma and great grandma taught Lynne to crochet, which, with the animals, and the farm-scape provided her with her first love of varied textures.
Kortenhaus also spent a lot of time at the beach, another influence on her work. Her mother’s parents had owned a harbor side beach resort “more of a BnB,” Kortenhaus said, and the blueprints for it appear in this new work, in Chine Colle (a kind of tissue thin collage which gets merged into the print rather than laying on top as does regular collage).
“We (she and her sister) grew up not with a lot of wealth but with a sense of love and community.” She said that when she is in her studio in the zone “there’s a peacefulness that kind of comes over me.” Related to her childhood. And there is a very Zen feel to her work, centering.
“Artmaking is a joyful experience. It’s not political. I use it to express my own self and hope viewers find something in it they can relate to,” Kortenhaus said. When I commented that the blueprints laid over skeletal etchings of what might be an animal or tree, hill or waves, resonate as juxtaposing man and nature, and are, as such, political, she replied with a smile, “No, it’s not political but you can read into what you want.”
When Kortenhaus was cramming college prep classes in high school, to escape from overload, she took an art class. “The teacher became my first mentor.” At first, drawing and painting, Kortenhaus decided to go to art school, got into three and chose RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) which she said, “gives you the foundations to explore design, sculpture, drawing, printmaking,” and much more. There printmaking intrigued her because of “the yin and yang” combination of creativity and of technical mastery; that the things you can do things on canvas can be translated to paper — commenting on the variety of handmade printmakers paper, such as Japanese or Italian, that “they are like handmade fabric” — and affect the outcome of the art.)
She said that she is “very process oriented” whether in life, art or business. Giving an example: after living in Florence for a year, she decided to settle in Boston to pursue her art with no idea how she could pay her rent. But friends, designers and architects were there, and she loved the buildings in the city and its manageable walkability. “What might have been daunting for some I saw as an opportunity,” Kortenhaus said. So, visiting art galleries, she found that one needed an assistant director; further on her walk, a company selling art fabric of Marimekko and Liberty of London needed a salesperson, and so she was able to follow her heart and head by taking jobs steeped in the arts. “My gut told me what I could and could not do to move forward.”
Eventually she created Kortenhaus Communications, as a publicist for high end, luxury lifestyle design and fashion, where she “understands it from the inside.” It’s a very successful boutique business; her staff has become her family.
In her art too, she is very process oriented. She uses metal plate, wood block, copper plate etching, lithograph, collage, Chine Colle, monotype and one-off monoprints, often combining these media. For this exhibition, she took archival work from her Provincetown studio which had “sentimental value” and which she wanted to keep in reworked new pieces which evoke a sense of “legacy.”
Her long-time gallerist, Mike Carroll, owner of Schoolhouse Gallery, enthused over her work, commenting that her techniques, how she fills her brayer with ink, how she handles subtleties of viscosity, set a foundation which draws people in to look.
He pointed out a subtle horizon in one of her Diaphanous series, where what could be sky meets air and cloud or angel. He said that although for this exhibition he favored the monochromatic pale backgrounds, that her color sense is as exceptional as that of her compositional technique, and that colors in her monoprints seem to be married to the hue and temperature of the seasons. He showed me a large collection of Kortenhaus’s work available to view. I was particularly struck by one which captured the quintessential color of fall turnings and of night coming skies, but many others inspired a meditative exploration to puzzle out their states of mind and try on personal messages they send.
Regarding her color sense Lynne says she walks about studying things, sketching, taking i-Phone photos. Seeing the light and how it reflects on the landscape. Not just in Ptown but in Boston where she says you’d be surprised how even in the Boston Public Garden, or the seaport, these shapes of light can infuse artistic vision.
“I’d love to take a sabbatical” to just do art, to see her art grow. To become “simpler and bolder,” she said. Yet there is already more than enough in her body of work. Identifying as a conceptual artist, inspired also by Provincetown abstract expressionists, she said, “You can tell my inspirations are land and landscape, you can’t pretend it isn’t there, but it isn’t realistic.”
But for me, her work hangs between many styles, is more fluid than her self-definition. There are occasionally recognizable images such as evergreens burning up with sapphire blue, along with the non-representational shaped bright colors and color fields, and words, such as New Jersey state highway, intruding onto the fragmented landscape etched into gray-beige background monotones inscribed with almost calligraphic figures in ghost shadow — a skeletal feather, a sheep, birds, or what appears to be a single butterfly wing above a swatch of lawn.
Certainly, the natural world is part of her imagery and theme, though yes, seldom literal, nor as fetishistic as it has become, a trendy Thing to admire and virtue signal (this from me, a former environmental educator and avid camper) but, as Carroll said, the way Kortenhaus depicts it makes us see nature as resonance, memory and story.
(The Lynne Kortenhaus exhibition continues through October 8 at Schoolhouse Gallery, 494 Commercial St., Providence, Massachusetts. For more information, call (508) 487-4800 or visit galleryschoolhouse.com.)