By David Masello
The subject was ready for its close-up. The painter Ken Goshen (b. 1988) ensured that sunlight and shadow were balanced perfectly in his Astoria, Queens, studio so as to best capture the nuances of his sitter: a torn loaf of challah bread, with its billowing, yeasty interior and shiny browned crust.
Goshen’s series of challah bread paintings epitomizes his work as a portraitist and also his adherence to techniques both classical and contemporary. “With these works,” explains the boyishly exuberant artist, “I want to combine the visual language of classical paintings with the way we look at art today. Bread has a way of influencing our associative image bank, like when you look at clouds and see faces, animals, bodies. In addition, challah has a cultural significance for me,” says Goshen, who was raised in Jerusalem but now works in New York as an artist and teacher. “Where I come from, bread brings people together. I feel an extra responsibility to paint the challah well, knowing it’s not going to be shared or consumed. I need to deliver on doing a really good painting of it.”
On Sunday afternoons, you might well find Goshen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leading his students through drawing and sketching exercises. There he often brings them before masterworks by Ingres, Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Caravaggio. Goshen is a thoughtful and spirited teacher, urging students to look — and keep looking — at the image before them. His goal during these four-week-long sessions is to teach light and shadow: “Understanding these two elements is the most fundamental lesson of drawing — how to take something out there and put it into shapes with the correct measure and proportion.”
Goshen is also a tireless painter of people. After serving three years in the Israeli army, where there was no time for painting, he became an artist “so that I could paint all day long. I had built up a creative energy by not being able to, so now no amount of painting feels overwhelming. I could paint 12 hours a day.”
Indeed, Goshen works as long as he can, resulting in an ever-growing body of paintings that includes an eerily lifelike self-portrait hearkening back to ancient Egyptian encaustics. Now he sees another objective in the distance — “to create my own art school. I have such a passion for painting that I’m just as happy to look at students’ finished works as my own.”
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