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Craig Kauffman, 1932-2010

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Craig Kauffman, my dear friend and an artist internationally recognized for his sensuous use of new materials and his participation in the Los Angeles art scene of the late 20th century, died on May 10th in the Philippines.  He was 78.  The cause was cardiogenic shock and complications from pneumonia, following a recent stroke.  Kauffman was surrounded by family and close friends during his illness. I visited him just last week, at his home and studio in Angeles City, Philippines.

Often cited as a seminal figure in the Los Angeles art world during the 1950s and 1960s, Craig Kauffman first rose to the attention of critics and collectors with his first major one-man show of paintings at Felix Landau Gallery in 1953.  Even at the young age of 19, his work was very favorably reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, when he exhibited works inspired by Paul Klee at Felix Landau in 1951 in a group show.  His paintings, distinctive for their open sense of space and sensuous use of line, were also included in landmark early Los Angeles exhibits such as Action I, held at the Merry-Go-Round Building on the Santa Monica Pier, which he co-organized with curator Walter Hopps and James Newman.  Kauffman was one of the original members of the legendary Ferus Gallery, and participated in the opening show, Objects on the New Landscape Demanding of the Eye. Kauffman also had a solo show at Ferus, in June of 1958, which was regarded by critics–and his peers–as a major and influential exhibition of painting.

However, it was Kauffman’s wall relief sculpture in the medium of acrylic plastic that gained him international attention and fame. During the early 1960s, the artist began to experiment with painting on glass, having been influenced by seeing Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even at the Pasadena Art Museum during a 1962 retrospective organized by his friend Hopps. The fragility of the glass was frustrating for Kauffman, and he investigated the use of a new medium, acrylic plastic. After an initial group of works with flat plastic, Kauffman discovered the industrial process of vacuum forming, and proceeded to translate his sensuous forms to wall reliefs, painted on the reverse with sprayed acrylic lacquer. The works were shown first at Ferus, and subsequently picked up by Pace Gallery in New York, where they were very favorably received. By the summer of 1966, Kauffman’s’ acrylic plastic wall relief paintings were featured on the cover of Art in America.

Kauffman continued to exhibit at Pace in New York, and by 1967 his work had been acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art. At the time, the use of industrial materials and a reductive methodology was embraced by many mainstream artists. In what the artist considered to be the most accurate curatorial statement about his work, historian and critic Barbara Rose included Kauffman’s work in A New Aesthetic at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, along with seminal Minimal artists Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Kauffman’s colleagues Larry Bell, Ron Davis and John McCracken.  As Barbara Rose noted in her catalogue essay, “Shaping the brittle sheet plastic into a series of voluptuous curves, Kauffman achieves a kind of abstract eroticism that is purely visual.”

Craig Kauffman’s works were subsequently acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (a 1969 acquisition by curator Kynaston McShine), the Tate Modern in London, the Chicago Art Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MOCA, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, and over 20 other major institutions throughout the world. Kauffman’s work had a significant place in the history of late 20th century art, and is regularly included in surveys of art from the 1960s, as well as exhibits about Los Angeles art.

Although he is often associated with movements in Los Angeles art, his work was always informed by a broad historical knowledge of European painting and Asian art.  Working in series, Kauffman continued to explore unorthodox supports for painting during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.  Using materials ranging from fiberglass to silk, Kauffman always maintained a sensuous, high-key use of color. During a six decade career, he has continued to exhibit both in the U. S. and abroad, and most recently in Los Angeles at the Frank Lloyd Gallery, from April 3rd through May 1st, 2010.  Reviewing the show for the Los Angeles Times, critic Christopher Knight wrote, “At Frank Lloyd Gallery, a show of recent, painted wall reliefs by Craig Kauffman continues to explore a trajectory begun by the artist more than 40 years ago….but it’s the group of four, strangely glamorous wall flowers that captivate.”

Born in Los Angeles on March 31, 1932, Robert Craig Kauffman was the son of Superior Court Judge Kurtz Kauffman. He was a childhood friend and classmate of Walter Hopps, and graduated from Eagle Rock High School in 1950. He enrolled in the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California, but transferred to Department of Art at UCLA in 1952, where he received his Bachelor of Fine Art degree in 1955 and Master of Fine Arts in 1956. Kauffman traveled and lived in Paris and New York during subsequent years, and also taught painting at the University of California from 1967 to the early 1990s. He subsequently took up residence in the Philippines, where he continued to work in a home and studio that he designed.

I am profoundly affected by the loss of a good friend, mentor, and gallery artist. A more complete obituary will appear in the Los Angeles Times soon.

Written by Frank Lloyd

May 11, 2010 at 12:41 am

16 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LACMA, Caroline Bolter. Caroline Bolter said: RT @LACMA: Frank Lloyd writes a nice remembrance of Kauffman —ST […]

  2. […] the original post here: Craig Kauffman, 1932-2010 « Frank Lloyd's blog By admin | category: Los Angeles | tags: bachelor, class, department, factors-making, […]

  3. Very touching heart-felt remembrance. I was not familiar with this artist. I’m sorry to have to learn of him at his passing but thankful for this article. His works are indeed innovative and beautiful.


    May 11, 2010 at 1:39 am

  4. […] Read the original post: Craig Kauffman, 1932-2010 « Frank Lloyd's blog […]

  5. How sad to learn of Craig’s death. He was a seminal figure in the LA/OC art scene for decades and a truly unique character. Condolences to all who knew and loved him.

    Susan Davis

    May 11, 2010 at 3:52 am

  6. Thanks for tribute, Frank. Peter

    Peter Shelton

    May 11, 2010 at 4:29 am

  7. Terrible loss, Craig was one of the most talented and gifted painters So. Cal has ever produced. Craig was almost childlike in his perception of the world, quirky and gifted-one of a kind. I will remember all my time with him as Mentor and Friend very fondly, he will be missed by many!

    Jan Taylor

    May 11, 2010 at 1:56 pm

  8. The NYTimes and LA Times obituaries leave out important aspects of Craig’s complicated persona. An intense, sometimes contrarian, handsome, red headed man, who really loved the outdoors — beaches, forests, skies, weather –all of Nature, whether he was in Southern California or traveling the world. In the 70’s he had a large studio and charming house in then quiet Laguna Beach, away from LA and all the goings on. He had a VW van in those days, for camping trips or to get to beaches in S. California, so he could go surfing. Surfing and being on the edges of surf culture was important to Craig and he was really good at catching waves with his board. He liked being out on the beaches watching for the waves to become surf and joshing with the surfer kids. He also liked football games and baseball, all American sorts of sports. Popular culture was one big deadpan joke for him, a source of amusement. For contrast, he adored and totally revered Japanese tea ceremony articles. His house in Laguna had a woven straw Shinto gate in the garden and inside a few superb tea bowls — the best he could afford. All rather interesting that he turned out the way he did, someone who really knew about art, worldly things, as his parents were not connoisseurial(sp?), well traveled types whatsover. They were conventional. His mother was domineering and inordinately compulsive about mothering and good housekeeping, yet she was also a loving character, like those mother’s serving Thanksgiving in a Norman Rockwell cover. His father a considerate, quiet, intelligent man, a Judge. Craig’s drive towards perfection came from her influence. She left him no room to be messy, nor lazy. The perfection we can see in the fetish finishes and just completely sublime colors of his vacuum formed plastic works, which are totemic, and extraordinarily intelligent, in that they were the most modern things around, anywhere on earth. His enjoyment of high culture, to be truly sophisticated and urbane, was an inevitable rebellion. A turning away from the banality of growing up in suburban LA (Eagle Rock) and within a household atmosphere of strict conventions. Craig was a prodigy, obviously destined to become a visionary sort of artist — as he captured LA- ism — isticism- better than anyone else, and even the look of the times anywhere in the modernized world. All rather remarkable that he became a key figure, if one considers he was reticent about self promotion.


    May 20, 2010 at 4:54 am

  9. Indeed a terrible loss but luckily his work will live on for generations.

    Diehl Art Gallery

    June 29, 2010 at 12:44 am

  10. […] Craig Kauffman, 1932-2010 […]

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  12. I can’t forget you Craig:-) Here’s my message for you…
    Forever Friends
    you’re my friend and that is true,
    but the gift was given from me to you.
    we went thru moments that were good and bad,
    even moments that were happy and sad.
    you supported me when i was in tears,
    we stuck together when we were in fear,

    its really sad that it had to be this way,
    but it has reached its very last day.
    miles away can’t keep us apart,
    ’cause you’ll always be in my heart.

    Make new friends
    But keep the old
    One is sliver and the other gold !

    Norma Cabauatan

    January 26, 2011 at 8:25 am

  13. He’s really a great artist. I met him in the year 1988 when he was teaching art that year at the University of California. I really like his paintings. What a talented man, someone who I adore! 🙂

    Norma Cabauatan

    January 26, 2011 at 8:31 am

  14. I had the great fortune of working with him at Eric Johnson’s studio in San Pedro, where he made his last series.
    He was a singular presence in the art world, and a true curmudgeon, but in the best way imaginable.


    July 18, 2012 at 11:50 pm

  15. […] 1 Craig Kauffman, 1932-2010 […]

  16. Missing you so much. Today is your 4th year Death Anniversary. I just want to say thank you again and again for all your help. You were such a great man. I will never regret being with you when you started to get sick, and it was my pleasure to look after you when we were at the AUF Hospital. You’re a part of my life, and I will never forget you.

    Mechiel J Gontinas

    May 9, 2014 at 8:08 am

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