Three ‘authorportraits’ donated to Richard Hugo House

Most author portraits are commissioned works or the products of writer-artist friendships. But the “authorportraits” of Swedish artist Carl Köhler (1919-2006) reveal a more personal, idiosyncratic obsession. Köhler never met the authors he portrays, but he has contemplated their writerly essence with arresting artistic results.

Köhler’s son, Henry Köhler, has just donated three of his father’s “authorportraits” — depicting Henry Miller, James Joyce and Russian poet Anna Akhmatova — to Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. They went on display in the literary center’s lobby earlier this month, and they’re a good fit for the space.

Done in the 1980s and ’90s, the pieces are a curious combination of ink drawing and collage, with slivers of paper glued on paper adding a subtle texture to the work.

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“James Joyce — Getting Blind” (an India ink collage drawing that’s one in a series Köhler did about the author of “Ulysses” losing his sight) is especially fine. The ink, splattered and sponged onto the uneven paper surface, pushes toward abstraction. Yet it nails the figurative basics: Joyce’s wire-brush mustache, his Coke-bottle-thick glasses, his thin tapering chin.

You can see all three “authorportraits” at Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle, open noon-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays (206-322-7030 or

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer