Joan Kahn grew up in New York City; Princeton, New Jersey; and Vermont; in an environment that patronized the arts. At home her father, a professor, and mother, a state economist and homemaker, collected nineteenth and twentieth century drawings and prints, Middle eastern rugs, and ceramics, pewter, and old tools. Her grandfather, Max Westfield, was an academically trained portrait painter and her great uncle was a well-known gallery owner and art dealer in pre-World War II Germany. One of the influential experiences of Joan’s youth was visiting her grandfather in his studio in Tennessee where the family had first immigrated.
Growing up near New York, and spending a year in Paris during high school, provided formative visits to museums and galleries. Joan was academically talented in grade and high school, but after her father’s death during her first years at university she found herself concentrating on studio and history of art. It was a subject above others absorbed and concentrated her focus.
Influential in Joan’s development and later work are the historic movements of the Bauhaus and Modernist design and architecture, geometric art and design of diverse cultures, Color Field Painting. Many artists have had a impact on her work, such as Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Sonia Delaunay, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Antoni Tàpies, David Smith, John McLaughlin, Tony Smith, Louise Nevelson, Robert Mangold, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Antonietta Lama, Thomas Nozkowski, Valerie Jaudon, Carolee Toon, James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Vija Celmins, Caio Fonseca, Peter Halley, Ed Moses, Juan Uslé, and Nancy Haynes.
After receiving three degrees from the University of Wisconsin in studio art with a minor concentration in art history, Joan worked for the National Endowment for the Arts for five years in the Artist-in-Residence Program in schools in the Midwest and on the east coast of the United States. Subsequently she became an art professor in Rome, Italy, for the next half decade, during which time she maintained a studio practice and exhibited solo and in groups. Becoming a mother in Italy, and raising a son, has been one of the great pleasures of her life.
For the past twenty-five years Joan Kahn has based her life as an art professor and artist in Altadena, California, where she maintains a painting and drawing studio surrounded by nature and a thriving garden. Joan listens to jazz in the studio and at home and attends live concerts as often as possible. She spends part of each year in Barnard, Vermont, on family property where she paints in the studio, swims in the pond, and walks in the woods.
Joan currently teaches at Art Center College of Design, Mt. San Antonio College, and Pasadena City College. Her paintings are exhibited nationally, most often in galleries on the east and west coast of the United States.