Cryptic Painting #1
Ida Kohlmeyer (11/03/1912-01/24/1997) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Bialystok, Poland. She graduated from Isadore Newman Manual Training School and entered Sophie B. Newcomb College of Tulane University to study English literature. She began her art studies at John McCrady’s Art School in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1947. In a 1989 interview, Kohlmeyer described her first studio painting class,"I was so new at this that just putting pink next to green was a moment of ecstasy and I let out an exclamation so that the whole class turned around."(1) Kohlmeyer then pursued her Masters Degree at Tulane with Pat Trivigno, who was a major influence in her life and work. Her work in the early 1950s was centered mostly on the figure and portraits of children. However, her art underwent a profound change during the summer of 1956, when she spent time at Hans Hofmann’s Provincetown workshop and became exposed to abstract expressionist theories and colors.(2) The next year Mark Rothko came to Newcomb as a visiting artist and set up a studio in the garage at the Rittenberg family home. He considered his work there a major breakthrough, and Kohlmeyer’s response to his paintings was so intense that her work for the next seven years reflected her reaction. She learned that a painting should be an “invention and not an imitation,” and she moved from figurative painting towards her own idiom of Abstract Expressionism.(3) From the time of Hofmann’s and Rothko’s influence until the onset of her geometric style in the late 1960s, Kohlmeyer explored the freedom of the automatic method ranging from anthropomorphic imagery to non-representational abstraction.(4) By the mid 1970's, inspired by the work of Joan Mirò and an avid interest in South American Art, she developed her distinctive vocabulary of shapes and symbols originally organized in grid format and later in loose flowing patterns. That style, which she explored for the rest of her life and eventually translated into sculpture, gave expression to her draftsmanship and encouraged her strong sense of color.(5) Kohlmeyer taught Art Fundamentals and Drawing at Newcomb College from 1956 until 1965. In 1957, she had her first one-person exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art. She also was a faculty member at the University of New Orleans from 1973 until 1975. Henri Ehrsam, at the Henri Gallery in Washington, DC, was the first dealer to take a serious interest in Kohlmeyer’s work, and her paintings were placed in many private and corporate collections. At the 28th Biennial of Contemporary American Painting, Corcoran Gallery, Kohlmeyer was awarded Purchase Award through the Ford Foundation Grant. Her work can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Houston Museum of Fine Arts, among many others. Footnotes: 1. Avis Berman, interview with Ida Kohlmeyer, 1989, Archives of American Art, Washington, DC. 2. Jules and Nancy G. Heller, North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century (New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1995), 312. 3. Jane Q. Kessler, Ida Kohlmeyer: Thirty Years (Charlotte, NC: Mint Museum, 1983), 12. 4. William J. Ergeran, Jr., “Reflections on Lyrical Power: A Kohlmeyer Study,” Ida Kohlmeyer: Thirty Years (Charlotte, NC: Mint Museum, 1983), 27. 5. Our thanks to the Arthur Roger Gallery for this critical comment. 6. Nancy Grossman and Ida Kohlmeyer, “Artist to Artist,” Art Papers Vol. 5, No. 3 (May/June, 1981), 2.