Abstract Symbolism Kenneth Callahan

Kenneth Callahan (1905–1986) was an American painter and muralist who served as a catalyst for Northwest artists in the mid-20th century through his own painting, his work as assistant director and curator at the Seattle Art Museum, and his writings about contemporary art. Born in Eastern Washington and largely self-taught as an artist, Callahan was committed to an art that went beyond the merely illustrative. He enrolled at the University of Washington in 1924 but did not stay long. He traveled widely, absorbing influences from the different countries and cultures he experienced. His talent was recognized early; his work was included in the first Whitney Biennial exhibition in 1933 and he went on to a distinguished painting career. Callahan is identified as one of the Northwest Mystics – along with Guy Anderson, Morris Graves, and Mark Tobey, who shared a muted palette and strong interest in Asian aesthetics






n 1930 Callahan married Margaret Bundy, who was a co-editor of Town Crier, a literary magazine published in Seattle between 1912 and 1937.
The Callahans developed friendships with Dr. Richard Fuller (founder of the Seattle Art Museum), Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and other progressive-minded artists. Their home became a meeting-place for Seattle's arts community, including prominent Japanese-American artists Kenjiro Nomura and Kamekichi Tokita, and many others.
In 1933 - at age 27 - he gained national recognition with the inclusion of some of his paintings in the First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Art at the Whitney Museum, in New York. The same year he began his twenty-year tenure with SAM, when it opened its new building in Seattle's Volunteer Park. Over the next two decades he curated exhibitions at SAM, wrote a weekly arts column for The Seattle Times, and took trips to Europe and Latin America; his main focus, however, remained his painting. He had numerous exhibitions, was commissioned to do several murals (including post office murals for the Federal Art Project in Anacortes and Centralia, Washington and Rugby, North Dakota), and helped form the Group of Twelve, an "independent salon" of Northwest artists. In the late 1930s he and his wife began spending much of their time in the Robe Valley area of the North Cascades mountains; during the Second World War he spent summers as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout in the Cascades







Callahan was a somewhat controversial figure within the arts community, with some artists seeing conflict of interest in his positions as artist, curator, and critic. In 1953 he ceased working at SAM. Later that same year Life magazine ran an article with large color photos extolling Callahan, Graves, Anderson, and Tobey as the "Mystic Painters of the Pacific Northwest".Callahan never considered himself to be a "mystic" painter. In writings and interviews he explained that he wasn't interested in symbolism; rather, he saw his work as being firmly rooted in nature and art history - as it plainly was through the early part of his career. By the early 1960s, however, his style had become much more complex - and seemingly rife with symbolism. "He liked muscle-bound grandeur," wrote arts journalist Regina Hackett, "but released the figures who displayed it from the confines of gravity. Full of light, many hover on the edge of floating away." Over time, figurative elements - men, horses, trees, insects - disappeared from his work, in favor of pure abstraction, but still, said Callahan, "It is nature, with its unlimited varied form, structure, and color that constitutes the vital living force from which art must basically stem."Wikipedia






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