Private Collection, Australia
New York, Mitchell- Innes and Nash, Leon Kossoff, 11 April- 20 May 2000, cat no.98, colour illus, touring to:
London, Annely Juda Fine Art, 1 June- 22 July 2000
Sydney, Annandale Galleries
‘London, like the paint I use, seems to be in my bloodstream. It’s always moving, the skies, the streets, the buildings.’ 1
Leon Kossoff was born in Islington and, apart from evacuation during the war and four years’ military service in Europe, he has only ever lived and worked in the city. He has painted some areas (Shoreditch, Hackney, Kilburn) over and over again, focusing on places of intense human activity and flux – train stations, building and demolition sites, hospital wards and swimming pools. He began painting at King’s Cross in 1997 and this is one of a series of monumental paintings produced in a two-year period.
Kossoff makes extensive use of charcoal drawings during a project, working in situ at different times of the day and in all weathers. Some of these drawings show King’s Cross from further back, across the Euston Road, and these appear to revel in the flow of people and traffic moving around the station’s surrounding roads. The resulting large-scale oils focus on the station’s entrance, where commuters enter the train station at ground level, or descend steps into the underground.
Once back in the studio, Kossoff works directly from his drawings. Paintings are often scraped back, to be re-painted, (or abandoned), but invariably the final image is the result of a single sitting lasting several hours. His King’s Cross charcoals only vaguely suggest the human figures that appear in the final paintings. These are developed in the studio, and inevitably borrow characteristics from the portraits that are present there.
The figures in this painting echo those from a series made almost twenty years earlier at Kilburn Underground Station. Then, as here, two figures cross the canvas in one direction and two in the other. Kossoff uses the colour of the figures’ clothes to add rhythm to his composition and, as with a Lowry painting, there is almost always one figure dressed in red and one in blue.
Looking at the series as a whole, one can see that Kossoff’s palette has changed in response to the seasons. The paintings from October 1997 contain a range of browns and blues, while the paintings from spring, like this one, have more ochre and white, giving the impression of a golden light bathing the station building. By summer, the sun seems blinding as even more white paint is introduced, and in autumn 1998, one year later, the blues and browns have returned, completing the colour cycle.
It is his close observation of a place over long periods of time that gives Kossoff’s work such resonance, creating paintings that sing both of history and an insistent present.
1 Leon Kossoff, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, exhibition catalogue, 2009, p26