Growing up in Hutchinson, Kansas in the 1950s, John Kuhn enjoyed what he describes as an idyllic childhood full of bike riding, neighborhood baseball and plenty of time to draw. His family encouraged his drawing as well as his fascination with assembling model cars and designing architectural models and small sculptures. Kuhn’s mother, in fact, was an artist in her own right, not only doing occasional watercolors, but also designing illustrations for her four children’s furniture and costumes for holidays and special events. The family home was filled with classical music as well, establishing a foundation not only for Kuhn’s appreciation of music, but also a knowledge of music history that would later supplement his study of art history.
Kuhn received a basic art education in his public school, and took advantage of a unique summer art program in which the public school made the art classrooms available to anyone who was interested in using them. After graduating from Hutchinson High School in 1966, Kuhn enrolled for a year in Wichita State University before transferring to the University of Kansas at Lawrence. There, he majored in art history within the School of the Arts where he could also take studio arts classes.
In terms of subject matter, Kuhn was typically painting nighttime images of theatre marquees, a theme that he shared with a number of other photorealists. That all changed one day as he watched Margie making tea. The striking shadows on the teapot and cups and caught his attention and he took a photograph immediately. When it evolved into a painting, Kuhn realized that still life painting might offer opportunities for new interpretations of textures and paint surfaces. Today, he has established parameters limiting his still life images to fruit, candy, toys and most recently, flowers. The subject is traditional, but Kuhn’s marriage of formal precision with the soft edges created by the airbrush encourages viewers to look at these everyday objects from a fresh perspective.
Kuhn’s recent flower paintings also demonstrate the power of depicting everyday objects at a large scale. As he expands the size of his canvases, with some of them as large as 4’ x 4’, he also has more scope for exploring the surface of paintings. Standing in front of such an image, the viewer is immersed in the world on the canvas, experiencing the color, form and light of the painting both directly and immediately. Like his nineteenth century Realist predecessors, Kuhn offers an opportunity to objectively observe the visual forms of daily life, while inviting personal consideration of what those observations might mean beyond their overt functions.