June 27, 2018

Kevin Wolff (1955–2018)

CHICAGO, ILLINOISKevin Wolff, a Chicago-based artist and teacher whose portrayals of nudes, clay forms, and everyday visions were often brought to life on photographic, candy-hued canvases, died on May 15 at the age of sixty-three. Born in 1955 in Buffalo, New York, Wolff received his undergraduate degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wolff had a long and impactful career in both artmaking and education, especially as a mainstay of Chicago’s art scene, exhibiting at, among other venues, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Renaissance Society, Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Suburban. His work has also been exhibited at the New Museum, the Grey Art Gallery, and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions.

Wolff’s reputation as a playful and challenging painter and draftsman was in part solidified by his inclusion in the 1993 Whitney Biennial, but it was his thirty-year association with Feature Gallery and its famous director, known only as Hudson, that epitomized Wolff’s artistic personality. Wolff was with Feature Gallery from its early days in Chicago through its relocation to New York and up to Hudson’s death in 2014. Hudson cited Wolff as the artist with whom he had the longest running association, and he explained that longevity by stating simply: “I’m in love with the way he paints.” Wolff’s painting was recently included in the Feature Hudson Foundation booth at the 2018 Frieze Art Fair, curated by Matthew Higgs.

Wolff’s contributions to contemporary art—particularly the interplay in his work between representation and abstraction, homoerotic figuration, and his ongoing modeling of objects and figures in clay—have been chronicled in numerous anthologies. Through all the variations and themes, Wolff’s work is grounded in the exploration of process and respect for technique. For over two decades, Wolff taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis, where his classes in figure drawing and painting developed a reputation as “art boot camp.”

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