Untitled [Seated Female Figure], Max Kahn
I pull a chair to the middle of the room and sit. I’m not quite in the right spot yet. I drag the chair further back, sitting and glancing and standing in order to find a spot where my view of it isn’t striped with reflections of fluorescent light-tubes. My back is pressed to the radiator now and I’m just beginning to prickle with sweat. I look again. The curved tubes are still visible, only just skimming over the edge of the frame.
The print is by Max Kahn, Untitled, with [Seated Female Figure] in square brackets. An androgynous figure sits, quite plainly, on a ledge, poised as though she’s taking a break. There is no structural support around her; no armrests or cushions or walls, just empty space. The ledge is barely there, just ink-dry strokes on the page like an afterthought.
She’s facing straight ahead, body square and open. Her eyes are fiery. Her short hair falls over the right side of her sharp face — has she noticed? She seems like the type not to care, though her hair is tucked away neatly on the other side. Her nose is a rectangle that opens into thick, arched eyebrows; her lips purse like she’s holding back questions. Something sharp, possibly.
It’s getting warmer and I’m sweating a little. I bring my chair away from the radiator to be closer to her, even though it feels almost like a violation to be this close, to force vulnerability. From here, the tubes of light obscure her face. There’s a set squareness to her sloped shoulders, slanting down almost geometrically, that I hadn’t noticed before. Her arms shoot straight down from her shoulder-sleeves before settling on her thighs, where her hands rest in the middle. Lines, haphazard, cover every inch of her torso; from the hatched shadows, I can make out the shape of a breast.
I look up the artist — Max Kahn. His wife, Eleanor Coen, had strong eyebrows and a sweep of bobbed hair. The print is signed ’46, four years after they got married, one year after the end of the war. Are those shadows war-torn, eyes hardened by death? What love existed then — must exist now — in every brushstroke, every line?
At the edge of the print, I notice her feet. They’re curved and dainty, toes curled slightly against the ground. The lines are solid, but when I look closely I can see the layers of ink and care that went into capturing the shape of those small, soft feet.