Painted in 1992, Head of Chaim by British artist Leon Kossoff is an intimate and majestic portrait of the artist's brother. With his signature thick and generous impasto, Kossoff creates warm and affectionate portrayal of Chaim, a recurrent sitter for the artist following the passing of their father, another constant subject for the artist. Here, the face of Chaim is luminous and endearing, appearing dignified and modest with the slight turn of the figure's cheek. The materiality of the paint comes alive in Head of Chaim, its physicality and weightiness draping over the board, concealing the entire surface. Yet, the heaviness of the impasto streaks do not hinder the lightness of the image, a beautiful palette of dark, royal blues and shades of sandy beige and persimmon orange. Kossoff's marks of paint trails further emphasise the flatness of the picture plane and his medium, in some ways recalling his quick, gestural drawing technique.
For Kossoff, drawing is essential, an obsessional and indispensable aspect of his practice. He always begins his paintings with an exploration of the subject through life-drawing, which for him, is the only method of truly conveying what he sees, feels and perceives from his sitters. Kossoff began drawing his brother in 1983, and as Paul Moorhouse has suggested, found a 'rapid, almost immediate sympathy with the subject and the resulting figure studies [being] his most successful' (P. Moorhouse quoted in P. Moorhouse, Leon Kossoff, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1996, p. 33). This achievement in drawing translates elegantly into the paintings Kossoff made of Chaim, illustrating the heartfelt, familial relation between sitter and artist.
Kossoff was acutely aware of the importance of his sitters, not only as subjects of his works, as the artist professed: 'the fabric of my work through the last forty years has been dependent on those people who have so patiently sat for me, each one uniquely transforming my space by their presence' (L. Kossoff quoted in P. Moorhouse, Leon Kossoff, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1996, p. 36). In Head of Chaim, the spirit of the sitter emanates from the picture plane, culled from the artist's direct involvement and dialogue with his brother, and experienced through his masterful painterly technique.