Biography

Dream-like and ethereal, Mona Kuhn’s artwork synthesizes portraiture, landscape, and abstract imagery to contemplate the human body in its most natural state. The artist is known for her portrayals of the human figure, creating images that exude warmth, comfort, and beauty. The subjects’ settings mirror or complement their organic postures outdoors, whether they are sun-drenched in the southern California desert or lush French landscapes, or indoors. 

Kuhn’s creative process begins with a color palette and emotion, before the artist identifies a location and finally her subjects. Her 2006 series Evidence, amongst the first bodies of work to earn the artist acclaim, is comprised of alluring figurative studies set in a French naturist colony. Inspired by the cheerful, verdant outdoors and the sense of freedom and respect she observed in the colony, Kuhn uses abstracted form to distill the essence of this environment and mindset. In Native (2009), the artist returns to her home country of Brazil, a journey that began as a personal exploration and evolved into an examination of the natural environment and the nature of intimacy itself.

Kuhn is known to establish emotional connections with her subjects, which instills the honest confidence displayed in each portrait. Kuhn’s close bonds with her subjects’ places them in the role of collaborator. These bodies of work visually manifest mutual trust and frame vulnerability as empowerment. In the series She Disappeared into Complete Silence (2014), Kuhn photographs her close friend and collaborator Jacintha in Joshua Tree National Park, California. Kuhn captures Jacintha indulging in the light and warmth of the desertscape as well as inside architect Robert Stone’s secluded golden palace, where sunrays stream through large windows and reflect on mirrors that blur the boundary between indoors and out. Kuhn’s dynamic use of reflections, light leaks, and shadows allow her to render her subjects and environment holistically, exploring both the realistic and abstract elements that compose them.

Balance between realism and abstraction remains present in her most recent work, Bushes and Succulents (2018), where Kuhn alludes to the formal and metaphorical parallels between nature and the female body. Inspired by social developments and the progress of the feminist movement, Bushes and Succulents champions female empowerment. Influenced by historic greats, Kuhn adopts Georgia O’Keeffe’s mystifying and suggestive rendering of nature and May Ray’s use of solarization to elusively portray the grace and power of the female form.

Mona Kuhn was born in 1969 in São Paulo, Brazil and is of German descent. She received her BA from Ohio State University and studied fine art at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work is in private and public collections worldwide, including The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; George Eastman House Museum, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Musée de l'Elysée, Switzerland; Musée de la Photographie de Charleroi, Belgium; Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Japan; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Louvre Museum, Paris; Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida; and the Buhl Foundation, New York. Steidl has published six monographs of Kuhn’s work to date, Photographs (2004), Evidence (2007), Native (2009), Bordeaux (2011), Private (2014), and She Disappeared into Complete Silence (2018), and Stanley/Barker Books published a monograph of Kuhn’s work, Bushes and Succulents (2018). The artist lives and works in Los Angeles.