BOB KUHN (American, 1920-2007)
    The Encounter
    Acrylic on board
    24 x 36 inches (61.0 x 91.4 cm)
    Signed lower right: Kuhn


    Of the great twentieth-century wildlife artists, Robert Kuhn stands apart for his facile rendering of animals in motion and his innovative use of color. Training at the Pratt Institute in the 1930s, the Buffalo native worked as a commercial illustrator for over thirty years, following in the footsteps of other notable illustrators-turned-artists like William Leigh, N.C. Wyeth, Maynard Dixon, and John Clymer. Kuhn's illustration background taught him how to draw rapidly and on the spot; never without paper and pencil, Kuhn sketched animals constantly: at the zoo, from TV and magazines, and in situ, on trips to Africa, Alaska, Canada, and the American West. In 1970, Kuhn became a full-time painter, and he easily translated his gestural draftsmanship onto canvas through the use of fluid, fast-drying acrylic paint. The acrylic medium suited not only his lively brushwork, but also his preferred subjects: animals with dramatic movements, often in fight-or-flight situations. Kuhn's active animals -- whether cheetahs roaring, elephants charging through water holes, moose fleeing from attacking wolves, or gazelles leaping into the air - embody strength, intelligence, and beauty.

    Although Kuhn's attention to realistic animal behavior was rooted in the traditional wildlife painting of his predecessor Carl Rungius, his use of color was strikingly modern. Indeed, Kuhn was fascinated by the color theories of such abstractionists as Joseph Albers, Richard Diebenkorn, and Mark Rothko, namely the power relationships among colors. Rothko's association of colors with emotion especially impacted Kuhn, who saw the potential of color to heighten themes of fright or rescue or death. During the 1970s and '80s, Kuhn began to treat the background landscapes in his paintings like Rothko color fields, employing horizontal bands of bold color to offset his animal dramas. Kuhn explained, "What I like is how [Rothko] juxtaposes rich colors so similar in value that you really have to look to see where one begins and the other ends. The colors are so close in tone that they vibrate. . . . People say, 'How can you like that non-objective stuff, nothing is happening.' I respond, 'What's happening is terrific color; what else has to happen?'" (S. McGarry, "Bob Kuhn: Colorful Critters," Southwest Art, May 1994, p. 89).

    The Encounter exemplifies Kuhn's dramatic animal action and experimental color. Here, two Canadian bull moose lock antlers in a spectacular battle as they compete for a female during the fall mating season. Each bull anchors a hind leg in an opposite corner of the composition and, with flexed muscles, lunges forward, antlers colliding in an explosive, twisted mass in the center. Kuhn sets the scene against a Rothko-inspired color-field backdrop -- cherry-red leaves melding into a purple-red sunset shot through with blue striations -- in order to evoke a pulsing, electric sensation, as well as the bloodiness of the fight. In its juxtaposition of richly modeled moose and flattened, vivid bands of color, The Encounter shows Kuhn at the height of his talent.

    Condition Report*:

    No visible condition issues. Framed Dimensions 30.25 X 42.25 Inches

    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    May, 2015
    2nd Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
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