Robert Kipniss was born in 1931, in New York, a city that he returned to as an adult, after a childhood spent on Long Island. This early home inspired his later work, Long Island’s trees recurring in his paintings, mezzotints, drypoints, and lithographs.
In 1947, Kipniss took classes at the Art Students League, and, a year later, he took the liberal arts programme at Wittenberg College, Ohio. In 1950, he went to the University of Iowa. His primary interest had been poetry, but he turned to painting and had his first one man show in 1951 (at the Creative Gallery), his second two years later. He moved to New York in 1954.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he worked in a post office and a bookshop, experimenting with printing, and drawing intensely—the latter forming the basis for a lot of later works. His experiments in printmaking led to his production of mezzotints and lithographs, in particular. Having primarily painted until the early 1950s, other work took over. His pieces are devoid of figures, and the only signs of human habitation, mainly in the form of silent, seemingly empty buildings, only serve to emphasise the lack of people. He himself says that there is an undertone of anger beneath his paintings, as well as a lyricism that he takes from his poetry and other writings.
Kipniss won New York City’s Ralph Fabri Prize at the National Academy of Design in 1976, an award that has been followed by many others, including the Speicher-Hassam Purchase Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, in 1988. In 1980 he was elected to the National Academy of Design, and, in 1998, to the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers, London. He has had many one-man and group shows, and his work is held in eighty-eight institutional collections, including the Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. Kipniss is also an author and illustrator, publishing his poems, and illustrating two volumes of poetry by Rainer Marie Rilke in 1981.