Craig Kauffman


About The Artist

American artist Craig Kauffman (1932–2010) was one of the pioneering figures of the postwar Light and Space movement in Southern California. Along with artists like Peter Alexander, Larry Bell and Robert Irwin, he championed the use of modern technology and industrial plastics in fine art, experimenting with the perceptual and textural qualities of these materials to generate groundbreaking new sculptural forms. His work, which is also often characterized as ‘finish fetish’, is typified by its elegant curves, polished shiny surfaces and gradual shifts in color and tonality.

Kauffman is a quintessential California artist. Born in Los Angeles, he spent his life in the city and graduated with a BA from UCLA in 1955, followed by an MA from the same institution in 1956. Kauffman’s most famous pieces are his vacuum-formed plastic sculptures from the 1960s, in which he applied acrylic lacquer to a piece of plastic. This method, previously used only in commercial advertising, ensured a precise, sleek finish and the translucency of the material emphasized the variations in color and shadow. In an interview, the artist said, “If you paint it on glass, you can paint the line and then you can put the color on in back, you know like sign painters do… the line remains very crisp.”

Around the same time, the artist made a group of drawings that abstracted a series of mechanical and human forms found in magazines. It is thought that these sensuous figures informed the seemingly abstract forms of his sculptures, imbuing them with an anthropomorphic quality that is not always immediately apparent. In the late 1960s he went on to produce his signature lozenge-shaped wall works and highly reflective ‘bubble’ pieces, which appeared to possess an internal glow.

Traversing the boundary between painting and sculpture, Kauffman’s use of commercial technology and paint used in advertising signage has led to comparisons between his work and Pop art. In the 1970s, his work took a new direction when he began making a series of paintings inspired by architectural form, which combined thin wooden frames with multiple planes of flat color. Their investigation of line, shape and geometry is offset by the presence of textured, visible brushstrokes, which create a playful, expressive effect. Some of these paintings incorporated press formed plastic, in reference to his previous body of work.

Kauffman’s work is represented in many prominent museum collections worldwide including Tate, London; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

Riven. R., Made in Los Angeles: Materials, Processes, and the Birth of West Coast Minimalism. Getty, 2016. 29. Peabody, R., Bradnock, L., Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. 2011. 156.