Hugh Kepets, Painter and Printmaker


Whether working in black and white or color, with traditional still life, nudes, or architectural fragments, Hugh Kepets has always treated his subject matter as an intense inquiry into formal structure. Each object is reduced to its basic form: the three dimensional flattened to two dimensions and the intensity of detail restrained to basic essentials. Hugh Kepets has taken his inquiry almost to the extreme of abstraction in his study of minute portions of buildings and little slices of what could be much larger subjects. His preferred media have been drawing and prints on paper, which have evolved recently into digital printmaking, allowing him a range and subtlety of color lacking in traditional printmaking techniques.

Kepets was born in Cleveland and educated at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (B.F.A. 1968) and Ohio University (M.F.A. 1972). His degrees were in painting, but he was always interested in drawing and printmaking. His work, which owes its appearance to a study of the beauty in minute particulars, was instantly popular in Cleveland and elsewhere in the ’70s.  He was given one-man shows in New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland throughout the 1970s.

After living in San Francisco and western Massachusetts, Kepets moved to New York City in 1973, where his art became immediately successful. He now lives in Milford, Connecticut, but keeps a residence in the city. He counts himself lucky to have been able to do the work he wants without compromising: “My job in life is to please myself doing the work I do.” Kepets’s works please others, too: His paintings and prints are in many major museum collections in the United States (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among others) as well as numerous corporate collections (AT&T, IBM, Xerox, GM and so on). Besides winning the Cleveland Arts Prize, he has received awards from the New York State Creative Arts (1975, 1980) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1979).

Kepets’s first paintings were figural in subject matter. After graduate school and a move east, however, he started “painting my interiors,” beginning with indoor still lifes, extending to the plants on the window sill, then to the facades of buildings he looked at, and finally to corners of buildings and architectural elements. His subject is not the physical object itself, but the abstract pattern of what he sees. But, although the image is flattened to two dimensions, he never abandons verisimilitude. Our attention may be focused on the basic patterns of light and shade and variations of color, but we always know what the form is, whether it be an architectural scroll, a fence railing, or a chair. 

His work has been linked to that of such precisionists as Charles Sheeler, but Kepets was actually influenced early on by visits to the Cleveland Museum of Art where two paintings by Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Motherwell fascinated him. Although, on the surface, the work of these artists seem to have nothing in common with his own, Kepets says he learned from them that he wanted to investigate abstraction, reducing objects to color, light and atmosphere while retaining the integrity of their natural forms.

Kepets’s lithographs and serigraphs of the 1970s, such as Metropolitan Arches and Brooklyn Botanical Garden, represent microcosms, parts of a whole that suggest a larger universe. He breaks down his objects into beautifully juxtaposed geometric forms, indicating the connection of animate and inanimate matter. The term “still life” is especially appropriate when applied to his silent, motionless pictures, which he achieves through the similar tonalities of objects and his expert regular hatching and stippling technique. Having almost abandoned painting, Kepets employs in his recent works (the colorful Reitveld chair series) a digital printing technique in which he scans numerous monochromatic drawings and texture plates into a computer and then, using Adobe photoshop, creates from 70 to 80 layers of colors. These digital prints have a richness and depth of texture and color that goes beyond his earlier work. Yet, in all Kepets’s prints, in spite of the classical beauty of individual form, the abstraction of elements is still the main subject.

Diane De Grazia

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Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •