Here Comes the Diesel by Leon Kossoff feels like a fight. Viewers must battle our way through the choppy chaotic brambles to even see the title’s train. Kossoff drives paint across the canvas like a barrage. It brings to mind the rush of a train, powering through forests and fields. They carry cargo and people across nations. Much like art does with ideas and feelings – trains deliver.
There’s no softness or sentimentality here or in any of Kossoff’s work. Hardcore defines this artist. He’s fond of familiar subject matter and paints it with vibrant, powerful strokes. We can feel his resolute realism. This man wields a brush like a weapon. Kossoff wars with us through time and across nations in his paintings. Some believe this work bouts with tech – that the train represents man-made machines. But it’s the artist himself. He’s the force behind this relentless image, after all.
The beauty of Here Comes the Diesel lies in Kossoff’s keen handling of our attention. He controls our eyeline. There’s an artistry to the train’s slow reveal. The shrubbery and brush serve as elegant distractions. It’s all the more delightful to then discover the bright yellow train face. Turns out it was right there in the center of the painting the whole time. Kossoff tells us, the beauty hasn’t gone anywhere. Yes, nature’s glory is gorgeous. But there’s something lovely about that barreling train too.
Kossoff painted in a distinctive brash manner. Art critics have described his paint strokes as “brutally thick”. All his life he wanted to be a painter. Even after many years of criticism, he kept trying. This represents a chaotic time for any artist. The years of struggle to find an artistic vision, voice, and identity are the hardest. It’s no wonder we see such wild fury in Kossoff’s work. Lucky for us, he executes it with bold and striking skill.
Luckily, Kossoff never gave up. Eventually he found an inspiring teacher in David Bomberg. It was a perfect expressionist match. Bombergh also believed in seeking the spirit within a work. This aligned with Kossoff’s method and resulting emotional resonance in his paintings. His career took off after the pairing. Kossoff went on to paint into his 90th year. Much like the diesel train in his painting, he blared brightly until the end of his life. But he was doing that all along. Now he’s known as one of the most eminent British post war painters.
Leon Kossoff – Factoids
- Kossoff (1926 – 2019) focused his work primarily on his lifelong home of London, England.
- It’s funny because many of his most well known works literally portray his actual backyard.
- Like many of his peers, Kossoff delved into figurative paintings during the 1970s.
- He drew several versions of each portrait in sittings before even taking paint brush to canvas.
- Today Kossoff’s works grace galleries in many of the world’s finest museums including the MOMA and the Tate.
- Only a short stint with the 2nd Battalion Jewish Brigade of the Royal Fusiliers interrupted his lifelong artistic pursuits.
- Leon Kossoff died at 92 years old on July 4, 2019.