The Hudson River realistically and abstractly is the sole subject of Ellen Kozak Paintings: Reflections on a River at The Hudson River Museum. This exhibition includes her Hudson River Primer Series (1996-2001) and watercolors from her 1996 artists’ book Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes: Notations on a Landscape.
Kozak’s vivid palette straddles the cusp between representation and abstraction and her fluid shapes depict continuous change and motion. Kozak paints from observation, but her pairings of colors are not often found in work by contemporary painters. She uses color to depict phenomena. For example, in Hudson River #16, yellows and violets are combined to create the shimmer of shallow water.
Inspired by the rural location during her residency at Yaddo, an artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, Kozak began to paint by directly observing landscape. Now she paints in early morning from a point overlooking the Hudson River where she focuses on the play of light on the water. “The River’s light and color became my subjects, all of the painting was given to reflected light, the River’s surface, its tide, current and atmosphere,” Kozak says.
Some of her works are sparsely minimalist 3/4 small pieces of broken horizontal color, as on an overcast morning. In others, a painting of clouds reflected through the mirror-like lens of the unbroken surface of the river suggests an aerial view of the earth.
Greatly influenced by the poems of Rilke, Kozak aspires to having her works be “poems of light.” In Hudson River Primer #53 (Cyclops), a painting in the show, she pairs her watery illusions with mythological metaphors 3/4 Cyclops is a yellow sun breaking over the clouds. Other Kozak paintings to be seen at the Hudson River Museum are A Route of Evanescence, a reflection on the transitory nature of life. It takes its title from Emily Dickinson’s poem about a hummingbird. The state of inner silence or serenity the poets strive for is suggested in the blues and yellows of her painting. Almost Stillness Still. The light 3/4 in this case, the sun in Kozak’s paintings 3/4always appears indirectly, as reflected on the water. Light and water are metaphors for revelation and the unconscious.
Kozak, an assistant professor at Pratt Institute, has painted landscapes for over a decade and exhibited in the Northeast as well as in Cologne, Paris, Osaka and Tokyo. Her works have been included in the permanent collections of The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, among others.