When viewers enter the two rooms at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum that comprise Jane Kogan’s retrospective show, they step into a staring match. At one end of the gallery, the late Roger Skillings stares out from his 1969 portrait, almost life-size, with his hand on his hip and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Across the room is a self-portrait of Kogan. She, too, is life-size, wearing a bowler hat, the first painting in Kogan’s “Amazon” series.
The pairing is appropriate, as the show is dedicated to the memory of Skillings, who championed Kogan’s work. The two met during Kogan’s first summer in Provincetown in 1966. “I first came up here with a lover of mine,” she says. “We ended up renting a big house out on Shore Road. And we filled it up with people.”
One of those people introduced her to Skillings. Kogan, 84, has lived in Provincetown for 54 years; she was among the Fine Arts Work Center’s first cohort of visual arts fellows in 1968, and the next year, when the writing program began, Skillings, too, became a fellow. He remained involved with FAWC until his death in 2020.
The work in the retrospective is notably diverse. There are the large-scale “Amazon” paintings — imposing female figures surrounded by geometric patterns and iconography reminiscent of paintings by Hilma af Klint. There are Kogan’s early small-scale etchings, works in colored pencil, photo collages, mixed media work with buttons, and small-scale landscapes on wood panels.
“A lot of people at the opening thought that four different people were the artist,” Kogan says. “I say that I’m like Picasso: many different styles, but not quite as good.”
Kogan’s stylistic periods begin and end definitely, each era working through a concept.
“What happens is I do a whole series, and then there’s a break, and I have a new idea,” she says.
Her earliest works are etchings, made when she was living in New York City with access to a printing press. Some of these, like Marie Standing, Rear View, from 1967, are small domestic scenes with textural variety produced by the etching of lines onto a metal plate in an intaglio process. Others, like 1966’s Satisfaction of Desire, are collages of disparate scenes and include text.
“I was doing Cezanne,” says Kogan of this period. “He was my favorite artist. Then I began to get a little bit more abstract.”
Kogan points out two works representative of this development: a large, semi-abstract still life and a painting of a quartet of musicians (her father was a cellist) with clear Cubist influence.
Next came Kogan’s “Amazon” series, started in 1969 during the period of second-wave feminism.
“I wanted to do life-size women,” Kogan says. “In a way, it was unconscious, most of it. That’s what’s interesting.” In one painting, titled Self Portrait, Kogan wears one tall black boot; her other foot is bare. “People would say to me, ‘Why does she have one shoe on and one shoe off?’ I had never realized that I did.”
The paintings in the series have other dualities: usually a combination of symbols of good and bad. One woman holds flowers in one hand and a coiled snake in the other. In one self-portrait, she carries a flower and a speculum.
“Everything’s not so beautiful all the time,” says Kogan. “On the other hand, nothing’s horrible all the time.”
After she completed the series, Kogan moved on to something new.
“I think my father said something like, ‘Must you work so big?’ ” Kogan says. “Well, of course, the next ones turned out to be these teeny ones, of town.”
The small-scale paintings (Duarte Motors, from 1982, is the littlest, at 5 by 8 1/8 inches) capture in great detail the buildings and scenes of Provincetown in the 1980s.
“I guess I had been in P’town long enough by then, about 15 years, to have absorbed it,” Kogan says. “I had never done landscape. And I never have done landscape except for those little houses. I had to learn to do bushes and real trees and fences and all that stuff.”
Kogan made 32 of the pieces before she stopped painting and moved into collage and colored pencil drawings, around 1990.
Kogan’s “Embedded” series is among her more recent work. Using photo collage, she would place a nude self-portrait into a street scene. In one, she sits with tourists on the benches in front of town hall. In another, she’s superimposed into a Paris café.
Across her far-ranging body of work, there are some constants: an interest in the female figure, collage, geometric forms, texture.
“I feel like the artwork should speak for itself, basically — as Picasso said,” Kogan says with a laugh.
These days, she’s not doing a thing, she says. “I’m retired, you know. I just haven’t had any new ideas. I have all my art materials, so if I thought of something, I would do it. But I haven’t, and I’m okay.”
The event: A retrospective of works by Jane Kogan, curated by Vicki Tomayko
The time: Through Aug. 20
The place: Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 460 Commercial St.
The cost: $15 general admission