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In an uncanny way, the artist James Wolf has captured with lyrical abstraction the spirit of Cape Cod. Broad, bright, empty expanses suddenly merge into dense, sun-dappled, color-filled thickets. With his watercolors on paper he demonstrates his formidable abilities with the medium. Two strong categories of work coexist in his body of work. One set is comprised of spectacular tightly organized compositions such as “White Rock Girl’s Vacation” and “Latramm Solo” which rely on brushwork volleys placed in clusters of strokes. The open pattern of alternating diagonal passages forms multiple empty white spaces between. These crystal-like wedges seem to hover above the colorful background akin glints of sunlight cast off water. To make these shards of white paper pop forward, Wolf manipulates the surrounding colors. He employs wet into wet, wet into dry techniques, staining every stroke with color insertions. The watercolor bleeds are carefully controlled, suggestive of meshes, and intended to spark the white space. These paintings capture the feel of rain and light on ponds, and forest canopies.


The second impressive group of works is comprised of even more vigorous paintings, like “Samurai Sandwich” and “ Niche”. These are works in which the white of the page is released from the tight grasp of the overall background mesh and the white of the page becomes a punctuated expanse, like figures on a beach. Large areas of white are stabbed with tangled webs of color. Wolf’s genius is with the control of the cadence and interval between strokes to pattern the page the way musical notes delineate time, and define a rhythm. Wolf’s mastery is developed with a fascinating wet into dry technique, which creates an intramural counterpoint of lines, or crow’s feet, as a wet color is touched onto a near dry area of the initial stroke. Where the two blend – a “happy accident” – occurs. This is at its best when his bright colors blend with warm middle values. These are hard techniques to master, but exhilarating to see when done well. The enthusiasm, easy sophistication, and beauty of this work are hard to match. Anywhere.

James Wolf grew up in a rural area near Detroit, Michigan.  Wolf studied with his father, an artist, graphic and industrial designer. Plus, Wolf began taking formal schooling at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills. Later, Wolf studied at Oakland University, with the sculptor, Morris Brose (American, 1914 – 2000). During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wolf traveled throughout Central America. His Honduras and Panama journeys impacted the color and light in his painting.  On his return, in 1982, he developed and deployed many of these techniques with rewarding results; and, the artist settled in Boston where he exhibited in a few select galleries and executed a number of commissioned works.  In 1990, the artist relocated to the Cape Cod village of Cotuit, with his wife and young family. He opened the James Wolf Gallery in 1992, in the second floor space above the Cotuit Cooperative Grocery in the village center, (now known as the Cotuit Fresh Market). In these early years on the Cape, Wolf worked as a musician, oysterman, shipwright and waterfront laborer, all the while building up an exquisite portfolio of paintings.

In 1993, Wolf organized and performed in two World Music Concerts held at Freedom Hall in Cotuit to test the idea of a community arts center. Encouraged by a success, Wolf set out to organize a seasonal art center for classes, exhibitions, music and theatrical performances. In the yard, behind the grocery, there was an enfeebled cluster of garages, lean-tos and sheds and it was here that Wolf founded, and singlehandedly carved out the Cotuit Center for the Arts. In 1994 he founded Cotuit Center for the Arts, an artist’s work and exhibit space, offering workshops in various 2 and 3 dimensional art media, writing, photography, and computer graphics.  On any given day, you might find the legendary Impressionist painter Richard Judson Zolan (American, 1931 – 2001) a long-time Cotuit summer resident painting alla prima from a figure, with the equally legend Edward Gorey (American, 1925 – 2000) seated next to him making one of his own inimitable ink drawings (see intro to PBS broadcast Masterpiece Theater). Both working, watching, drawing, laughing as local children (including my own, Sophie and Schuyler Grant) costumed, painted sets, or rehearsed for a summer production. The center was a welcoming drop-in destination popular with artists, performers, musicians and an appreciative community.

In 1995 Wolf served on the board of DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) Boston chapter, and directed their two galleries at the Boston Design Center.  With this curatorial responsibility plus the Cotuit programming, the artist closed the James Wolf Gallery and established a formal exhibit space at the art center. Cotuit Center for the Arts became a non-profit corporation in 1995, and Wolf served as the Executive Director until recently.

James Wolf joined other artists organizing a painting studio (2009), at the Old Schoolhouse in Barnstable Village. Known at the Chalkboard Studios, this project has become an effective and successful artist collaborative, and, it is in the studios here that Wolf continues to create his abstract and figurative paintings.

The artist is listed in Artists of Cotuit, Cotuit Library and the Cotuit Center for the Arts; Contemporary Cape Cod Artists : On Abstraction, Schiffer Publications, New York, by Deborah Forman.

The author gratefully acknowledges contributions from the sources listed above. Special thanks to the artist, Chalkboard Studios, Barnstable, Massachusetts and to Kathleen Sidwell, artist and Director of the Studio on Slough Road, Brewster, Massachusetts. This document was originally assembled as a review of a Wolf exhibition at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit, Massachusetts and subsequently re-issued as a catalog introduction by the Studio on Slough Road, and is now appearing with additions and alterations. Opinions regarding Cape Cod modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting william.hemmerdinger@gmail.com. Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Wolf art should be directed to Chalkboard Studios (Barnstable, Massachusetts).