Channa Horwitz dies at 80; artist known for geometric paintings, drawings

Channa Horwitz dies at 80; artist known for geometric paintings, drawings
Channa Horwitz is shown at the Hammer Museum's biennial Made in L.A. exhibit in 2012. The artist, known for her dizzyingly intricate geometric drawings and paintings based on complex predetermined systems, has died at the age of 80. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Channa Horwitz, an artist known for her dizzyingly intricate geometric drawings and paintings based on complex predetermined systems, died Monday of complications from Crohn's disease at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica. She was 80.

In 1968, while still a student, Horwitz proposed a project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's seminal exhibition "Art and Technology" that would have involved collaborating with engineers to suspend eight large, free-floating Plexiglas beams within the space of a magnetic field, accompanied by eight beams of light that would fluctuate in intensity depending on the position of the beams.


The project was not accepted — curator Maurice Tuchman later stated, according to the artist, that he did not believe women should be allowed to work with such industrial elements — but the drawing that Horwitz produced to graph the sequences of the light beams' movements became the basis for a series that she would pursue throughout her life. She called it Sonakinatography.


Channa Horwitz obituary:

The news obituary in the May 4 LATExtra section of artist Channa Horwitz misspelled the first name of performance artist Allan Kaprow as Allen.

As she wrote in the magazine Flash Art in 1976: "I have created a visual philosophy by working with deductive logic. I had a need to control and compose time as I had controlled and composed two-dimensional drawings and paintings. To do this, I chose a graph as the basis for the visual description of time. I gave the graph a value: one inch became one beat or pulse in time. Using this graph, I made compositions that depicted rhythm visually."

Horwitz's approach was distinguished by its unusual combination of conceptual complexity and visual dynamism, even sensuality. Times art critic Christopher Knight described her works in a 2012 review as "patterned Minimalist drawings that breathe, pulsate and visually warp in most un-Minimalist ways. One colored dot follows another on big gridded sheets of graph paper. Systemic logic, which sustains industrial and digital societies, visually pops and fizzes, becoming a bountiful ritual chant."

Horwitz was born Channa Helene Shapiro in Boyle Heights on May 21, 1932, the first of two daughters. Her father, Louis Shapiro, was a self-taught electrician who developed and manufactured a line of blow-dryers used for pet grooming, founding the company Edemco. She began drawing at a young age.

After marrying and while raising three children, she took classes at Art Center School in Los Angeles (now Art Center College of Design) and Cal State Northridge. In 1972 she received a bachelor's degree from CalArts, where she studied with the renowned performance artist Allen Kaprow, participating in many of his "happenings." She created a happening of her own in 1971, transforming a staircase at the school into a grid of numbered and colored squares corresponding to one of her Sonakinatography drawings, arranging for dancers to move between them in a series of eight choreographed motions — a form of cross-media translation that she undertook on numerous occasions thereafter, often in collaboration with other artists.

Though closely aligned with the work of conceptual and minimalist artists like Sol Lewitt, Mel Bochner and Agnes Martin, Horwitz worked in relative isolation for much of her career, without the public acclaim those artists enjoyed. That tide has shown signs of turning, however. She has had several shows in Germany in recent years, and was featured in the Hammer Museum's biennial Made in L.A. in 2012. In the last few months, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and invited to participate in this year's Venice Biennale. Her most recent show is up through June 8 at Francois Ghebaly Gallery in Culver City.

Anne Ellegood, senior curator at the Hammer Museum, met Horwitz in 2010 and was drawn to her work immediately. "I am impressed by her commitment to her practice over a very long period of time," she said, "often with little critical, curatorial or commercial recognition. I admire the fact that once she identified a working methodology that both provided her with structure and infinite space for exploration, she stuck with it. She never wavered from her commitment to her work."

Horwitz is survived by her husband, Jim Horwitz, whom she married in 1973; two children from her first marriage to Marshall Davis, daughter Ellen Davis, a ballet dancer who collaborated with her on multiple performances, and son Marshall Davis; three stepchildren; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and her sister, Marlene Matlow. Another daughter, Toni, died at 21.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.