Magnificent Obsession: Lynne Kortenhaus
March 18, 2019
Text by Robert Kiener
For Boston-based printmaker Lynne Kortenhaus, inspiration is everywhere. “I frequently take pictures of striking sunsets and seaside views that catch my eye and may use these as inspirational jumping-off points for my printmaking,” she says as she takes time off from working in the basement studio of her historic Charlestown home.
“Also, I am a self-confessed forager. I’ll walk the beaches, often near Provincetown and along the Cape, and come back with an assortment of dried strands of seaweed or pieces of yarn or rope that appeal to me. I might ink them up and incorporate them into a print or just be inspired by their colors.”
Recently, closer to home, she was taken by the sight of a beautiful weeping willow near the lagoon at Boston’s Public Garden. “It was September, and the tree was just beginning to lose its leaves,” she remembers. “I was so struck by the image of the willow’s yellow leaves fallen on the bright green grass that I took a picture on my iPhone.” She eventually made a print of the photo and transferred it onto a sensitized solar plate that became the foundation for an etching.
Kortenhaus, who has also run her own successful public relations and marketing company, Kortenhaus Communications, since 1984, earned both a BFA and MFA in the mid-1970s from the Rhode Island School of Design. “I’m a bit obsessive by nature, and I think that’s one of the reasons printmaking—because it’s so technical and process-driven—has always appealed to me,” she explains.
However, printmaking took a backseat for almost two decades while she grew her public relations firm. It wasn’t until 1999, when she was offered a chance to study in Provincetown with the late printmaker, painter, and sculptor Michael Mazur, that her love for the craft was rekindled.
“It was invigorating to get back to making prints and experimenting,” she recalls. “Successful printmaking requires both the right and left sides of your brain. You must have the necessary technical skills as well as the creative aspects. For example, you need to know how to manipulate the printmaking process, such as how much pressure to use on the press, what you put on the plate, what type of ink to use, how thick or thin or transparent that ink is, the texture of fabric or whatever applied objects you might put on. If you don’t know these technical matters, everything can go awry.”
While Kortenhaus uses a traditional press, with roller and ink, her work is anything but ordinary. Typically, she starts with a plate, which can be anything from metal to Plexiglas to cardboard to copper, and applies objects on top of it before inking and printing. “I might put fibers or cheesecloth, string, paint, or cut pieces of paper onto the plate to create an image or texture that appeals to me,” she explains. “Or I may use layer upon layer of transparent ink to build up the visual image.”
Instead of printing a series of the same print, Kortenhaus likes to experiment by working from the same plate but adding a piece of fabric or paper, or painting with a brush or roller or pastels to make each one unique. “One piece fuels the next, and it’s hard to stop until I’ve exhausted the imagery I’ve been working on or the materials I have on hand.”
She laughs and adds, “I told you I am obsessive! The one thing I don’t want to be is repetitive.”
Mike Carroll, an artist and owner of Provincetown’s Schoolhouse Gallery, describes her as an excellent colorist and ‘translator’ of the region in which she lives. “Lynne is moved by the physical experience of this part of the world. She has spent time surrounded by the warmth, the way the light here shifts and changes,” he says. “She translates it using the tools that she has been given—paper, ink, texture, and shape. She’s saying with her work, ‘Here’s what it feels like to be in this landscape.’ ”