Robert Kipniss


The University Press of New England

the memoir

The purpose of this book is to tell the story of how one artist established himself, a narrative in which incidents affecting the life, the work, and the career are intertwining threads often indistinguishable from one another.

Poetry and painting were equal passions of mine until I turned thirty and became a father, and I had to earn more money. Getting an evening job meant making a choice, and I stayed with painting, shelving my writing as something I would return to later, perhaps when I was much older. About thirty years ago, I thought of my past as having been episodic as I reflected on many experiences and personalities that seemed singular, each in some way shaping my development. Quite aware of how significant these events had been throughout my youth and later as a young adult, I began writing down those memories, even though I wasn't sure what I would do with the scattered observations of incidents and thoughts. When I was fifty-two, I decided to gather them together, and I wrote twenty-eight chapters of something I thought might eventually become a memoir. I regularly wrote and revised the manuscript, laboriously typing and retyping every word. It was a time-consuming and discouraging effort, and I ended up putting the pages aside.

When my paintings began to find an audience in galleries around this country and abroad, dealers began publishing catalogues about my work. It was a catalyst to begin writing essays about working as an artist as well as about the art itself. It felt good to be writing again and seeing my thoughts in print. Then a few years ago I bought a computer, which made rewriting much easier, and soon I took up the memoir again, purposely avoiding looking at the earlier material until the new manuscript was nearly finished. I was concerned that the rougher quality of my earlier writing might dishearten me, and when I finally did read those chapters again, I found, to my surprise, That I had forgotten virtually nothing.

In this memoir, as I explored my memories, more memories came forth. There was much clarity and detail, even of conversations, but not always of dates, and for that I needed to do some research. I had always been careful about keeping a record of my exhibitions, although not of my individual paintings, and this was helpful because I could easily place events in the context of what paintings I remembered doing at certain times, and where they had been exhibited. Sometimes I remembered too many details and too many stories, which interrupted the narrative, and these I left out. There was also much help from the research department at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

While working on this book, I continued painting in my studio in Westchester County during the week. I wrote on weekends at my home in northwestern Connecticut instead of burnishing copper plates, essentially giving up printmaking for nearly three years.

It has been illuminating to revisit the various periods of my past. As my life was happening, it was impossible to know how each day was shaping its tomorrow, or the following month, or the next year. When I neared the conclusion of this book and reread what I had written, I was startled and pleased to see that instead of a random collection of episodes, I saw my life emerging as a whole. I found a consistency and coherence that was as much a function of personality, instinct, and my compulsion to create as it was of conscious thought. It was a perspective impossible to have until I had lived almost eighty years.

Writing about my life has been a little like reliving it, but with the advantage of seeing the unfolding problems and troubles in the context of their eventual resolution. I found this second visit a good thing, even with its many uncomfortable moments, and it has left me at peace, my enthusiasm undiminished.

art book
Work by the artist in both mediums during his formative years, showing his development from early explorations to the beginning of his mature work.
One hundred and two color images from a half century of the artist's career
How a young self-taught artist made a place for himself of respect and success in a hostile art world.
catalog raisonne--intaglios
A complete listing, image, and exhibition history of every print in this period
museum publication
A catalog of the show that reopened the New Orleans Museum of Art six months after Hurricane Katrina
catalog raisonne--lithographs
Reproductions of 208 color and black-and-white prints from 1967 to 1979

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