Reconnecting With an Enduring Artist: Calliope Babu-Kahn

By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter

One of Pacific Palisades’ most tenured artists, Calliope Babu-Kahn is as active as ever. The Greek-American painter consistently creates impressive works with such consistency—and in such a diversity of mediums—that she’s become a stalwart of the Palisadian-Post, a constant in the archives of our paper even as our own work has developed and changed over time.

Most recently, Babu-Kahn appeared in our “Out of the Past” section, where we displayed a photo from an article in our March 4, 1982 edition about the artist and her work. That provided an opportunity for the Post to check back in with the prolific painter, and to try to uncover what keeps her so active to this day.

1982                                  Photo courtesy of Post archives
1982 Photo courtesy of Post archives

 

2016 Photo courtesy of Calliope Babu-Kahn
2016
Photo courtesy of Calliope Babu-Kahn

Born in Athens, Greece, Babu-Kahn knew she wanted to create even as a child. She told the Post that as a young girl, she lived near the sea, and that she would take different colored pebbles from the shore, grind them into a chalky powder, and then use them as her “own little paint set.”

One time, at a café with her parents, Babu-Kahn was so struck by the urge to draw that she used the only “canvas” available to her—the table. “She’s going to be an artist,” commented a nearby patron. How right they were.

Over decades, Babu-Kahn’s immense body of work has appeared outside Los Angeles City Hall, inside the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena and in her own private gallery in Pico-Robertson (to name only a few locations).

Babu-Kahn’s work draws from a variety of cultures, influenced by her Greek childhood, her marriage to Shafi Babu-Kahn, a native of India, and her many years spent studying and living in the United States.

Over time, the mediums she’s used have also varied, painting and drawing with charcoals, oils and watercolors, and varying the materials on which she creates as well. She even has a combination sketch/cookbook with illustrations of her native Greece.

Above and below: Abstract works on roofing paper Photos by Matthew Meyer
Above and below: Abstract works on roofing paper
Photos by Matthew Meyer

P2B

Today, Babu-Kahn has taken to using scrolls of thick roofing paper to create sprawling, abstract works.

Asked what keeps her so driven to make art, Babu-Kahn said she’s honestly not sure.

“Why do you write?” she shot back. It’s a fair point. Sometimes the urge to create evades pragmatic reasoning by its very nature.

In talking to Babu-Kahn, however, a few clues emerged.

The artist clearly values her work’s ability to bridge cultures—you hear it in the way she talks about her depiction of the sisterhood between Los Angeles and Athens, featuring uninterrupted lines to emphasize their connection, which was presented as a backdrop for the Olympic Flame at the Coliseum.

Babu-Kahn also treasures art’s ability to capture a person’s essence, like in her award-winning acrylic biography of Barack Obama, broken into a grid on a large canvas with each square representing a year of Obama’s life leading up to the 2008 election.

And then there’s the form itself—Babu-Kahn clearly enjoys the process. She said that recently she’s been using a “ruling pen”—traditionally employed by architects—because it creates a direct, crisp line that she finds deeply satisfying.

Whether it’s those influences or any others, it’s clear Babu-Kahn won’t stop creating any time soon. Making art for others to enjoy is just part of who she is—and the Palisades, along with the rest of Los Angeles, is all the better for it.

Visit Babu-Kahn Galleries at 1101 Robertson Blvd. Los Angeles, California 90035.