GEORGE KOKINES (born1930; died 2012) studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a BFA in 1960. Following graduation, he won the Art Institute’s Frank G. Logan medal and prize for emerging artists. Kokines’ paintings were hailed for their color, surrealistic forms, and sense of movement and were featured in several solo shows in Chicago. In group shows, he exhibited alongside Edvins Strautmanis, Morris Barazani, Aaron Siskind, and Richard Hunt, among others. In 1963, Kokines was invited to exhibit work at the Whitney Museum’s Annual Contemporary Painting Show. Two years later, the removal of his paintings from a show at the Chicago Cultural Center started a media debate on censorship and taste. Kokines relocated to New York City in 1966 while continuing to show in Chicago.
In New York, Kokines increasingly used textured surfaces, and, during a residency in Italy, began constructing cement surfaces which he incised and painted. These pieces were shown in Ferrara, Italy, Chicago, and New York. He also continued to produce extensive works on paper, including small accordion books and the Etudes series, a return to free-form organic shapes. Kokines taught periodically throughout his career, holding artist-in-residence positions at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and teaching classes at NYU and RISD. He also served as a guest lecturer at schools around the city.
Kokines was two blocks from his lower Manhattan studio, having coffee across the street from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He witnessed the falling towers and was turned out of his home and studio for several months. He returned to Chicago in 2005, where he made the “September 11” pieces. About these works, he said, “People who know how to read the code will understand it and those who don’t will never understand it.” The pieces were first exhibited together in Elgin, Illinois in 2011. He died in November 2012 in Chicago.