Isack Kousnsky was born in Haifa, Israel in the nineteen fifties. A member of the first generation born after the Holocaust, Kousnsky came of age in an atmosphere pervaded by survivors' angst. By the time he turned eighteen, Kousnsky was drafted into the Israeli military - just as the Egyptian and Syrian armies crossed into the Golan mountains. Having witnessed the destruction left behind by battle, Kousnsky learned a hard lesson in the disastrous consequences of fundamentalism, be they religious or political. These early experiences in Israel are at the core of Kousnsky's artistic outlook. Seeking peace over war, unity over divisiveness and creativity over commercialism, Kousnsky's art might be seen as a way for him to heal the world's ills, large and small. In one part of his art practice, Kousnsky critiques social and political injustice. In the other, he fashions transcendent images of nature and fantastic views of the city meant to jolt us out of our hectic, urban routines.
Upon moving to New York in the early eighties, Kousnsky joined the burgeoning downtown art scene in the East Village. Kousnsky thrived among the East Village's cooperative galleries, collectives and alternative spaces. He exhibited at the Now and Sixth Sense galleries and installed a large, public installation, The World, in Tompkins Square Park, one of the East Village's most iconic sites. In his paintings, sculptures and installations from this period, Kousnsky engaged local and global politics: from tenant's rights to protests against apartheid. Kousnsky also began to integrate the alternative ethos of the East Village avant-garde into his own practice. In 1987, he founded the Hiro Project, an alternative art venue that functioned as a cafe and exhibition space devoted to painting, sculpture and installation. At the Hiro Project, Kousnsky curated one of the largest exhibitions of the era, including artists as diverse as Salvador, Rosilio and Keith Haring.
In 1989, Kousnsky returned to Israel and founded another alternative space, The Hurva or The Ruin. Located in Haifa, a city suffering from political repression and a lack of institutional support for the arts, The Hurva was more than just an exhibition space. It was a kind of temple for art.The Hurva provided a much needed center for Haifa's growing arts community. Spanning three floors and over 15,000 square feet, The Hurva hosted installations and performances as well as more traditional exhibitions of painting and sculpture.
In 1991, Kousnsky produced and exhibited a multi-media installation, Political Confusion: Black Milk at The Hurva. The exhibition was timed to coincide with the Madrid Peace Conference, the first public effort to negotiate a peace process between Israel, Palestine and their neighbors. This two-part installation evoked two sides of the political conflict. In the first room, the fate of the victims took center stage. The distorted, glowing face of a child fed milk through a syringe was repeated to haunting effect throughout a reconstruction of a war-torn room. In the second part of the installation, portraits of politicians involved in deciding the future of the Middle East hung on the walls. The roughly painted images verged on caricature, leading the viewer to question the trustworthiness of these powerful decision-makers. According to David Ross, then-director of the Whitney Museum, " BLACK MILK, looks strong indeed- its message is a provocative one."
The mixture of painting and photography that Kousnsky employed in Political Confusion: Black Milk led him to experiment further with photography as a medium. By 1993, when Kousnsky settled in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, he had developed a technique that combined photography with painting. Housed in stainless steel frames, these photo-paintings asserted their status as unique objects, a strident critique of the art world's obsession with reproduction and pop culture at the time. The photo-paintings also marked a transition in Kousnsky's subject-matter. Images of Buddhas, the ocean and flowers began to dominate his output. This turn to meditative imagery was and is a reaction against this commercial culture Kousnsky saw take over the once-vibrant arts neighborhood of SoHo. The photographs are intended to transport the viewer, if only momentarily, away the hustle and bustle of the streets and the constant barrage of advertisements faced by city residents on a daily basis. In the early photo-paintings, the industrial, stainless steel frame around each picture underlines the contrast between Kousnsky's images and their commercial context.
In turning to natural imagery, Kousnsky has expanded the terms of his art. His current photographs convey a vision of nature that would be familiar to any 19th century American Transcendentalist. At the same time, Kousnsky employs an array of abstract compositional strategies that play with the viewer's perception of pictorial space. In the looming, mirrored compositions of his oceanscapes, we are presented with the very image of infinity. In his flower pictures, we are left to wander through all-over compositions of blossoms and branches. There is also a bit of whimsy in Kousnsky's nature photographs. Unexpected colors might disrupt an otherwise naturalistic landscape or natural forms might cluster into suggestive shapes, stimulating the viewer's imagination.
Even as he continues to explore natural imagery in his work, Kousnsky is still involved in battling social and political injustice. His 2009 series of Haiti photographs depict the economic hardships faced by Haitians prior to the 2010 earthquake. These images of the ad hoc marketplaces in Port-au-Prince portray the resilience and resourcefulness of the Haitian citizens, despite their position at the bottom of the economic ladder. Further, in his recent photographs of a baby humpback whale on the shore of Easthampton, Long Island, Kousnsky has returned to his activist roots. Made in protest against the forced euthanization of the sick whale, the photographs depict the majestic animal as the victim of our contemporary, morbid fascination with death as entertainment.
In addition to championing local and global causes, Kousnsky supports the work of local artists. His collection includes numerous examples of work by Bokov, a Russian assemblage artist and of Matthew Courtney, a painter who reflects upon urban life through a spare, graphic style.
Isack Kousnsky holds monthly exhibitions in his SoHo loft and, true to his alternative East Village origins, shows his work on the streets of SoHo and Chelsea. His work can be found in numerous collections throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Kousnsky's exhibition history includes: AIDS Benefit, Gen Art hosted by Vanity Fair, Art Tribune's Artist of the Month, Smell The Roses at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, The Bronx Zoo, DNA Gallery and March Ozone Gallery.
"The flower is our smell, the city and landscape is our environment, the politics is our ugliness, the buddha is our protection, the water is our dreams."
-- Isack Kousnsky, 2003