Rae Klein: Low Voice Out Loud
June 25 through August 13, 2022
By GARY BREWER, August 2022
“The hidden door that leads to paradise opens in a place without fissures where everything radiates, sustained by the mysterious vapor of imagination.”
-- Celeste Olalquaiaga, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of The Kitsch Experience
Painting can be a medium that conveys thoughts and feelings through the subtlest of emotional nuances: the ineffable vibrations of color, tone, touch, surface, and mood can exert an aura of feeling so strong that it can make one weep.
In poetry, music, film and literature- the realm of sincere emotions- meant to evoke deep feelings, has always been accepted, championed and desired. But for decades the visual arts have been plagued with works that express through glib, conceptually remote and campy irony: post-modern philosophical critiques of art, culture and society. Sentiment, sincerity, and emotional vulnerability have often been shunned and replaced with a tough veneer of implacable detachment- one might say in a somewhat macho defiance.
It is profoundly satisfying to see visual artists who are not afraid to express deep feelings in their work. The painter Rae Klein’s solo show, Low Voice Out Loud is a brilliant exhibition: her paintings are mysterious doorways into a mythic realm of loss, nostalgia, and longing. They are the hero’s journey through a nether world of broken fragments of memory and imagination, reconstructing and resurrecting them into new universes of meaning.
Objects and animals, eyes and human presences, are afloat and dislocated from the world we know. They exist, suspended in the poetry of thought and feeling expressed through the pure potential of painting. Klein captures and arrests the imagination through delicate tonal shifts and the gossamer layering of veils of color. She has a deft ability to capture a realistic image of her subjects concisely with a delicate metaphysical touch. The artist uses whatever means necessary to give these artifacts of our world a magical presence. She works with paintbrushes, glazing, airbrush, paint gun, and also rubs paint into the canvas with a rag, to achieve an atmospheric resonance.
I spoke with Klein about her work: she said about her paintings, “I look for objects and images that I can feel something in them, a quality that touches me. Though the content is lost, these are images that had meaning to someone, there is a story hidden. It is a deep dive into things that people are taken with and that are often dismissed as sentimental. There is something there and I want to find that quality and give them power. A cabin; a deer; a candelabra; a shell: a horse; all of these things exist in the human imagination in the past and in the future. A candelabra is a powerful symbol, it is a universal marker of an important event.”
Klein searches for these images in various ways. Early on, she used to go to antique stores and buy old family photos albums. Images of people, and places, and objects- a car, a house, an event, all captured for their importance as precious memories of a life lived. These are albums that are sold and discarded, most likely after the passing of the people who took them. Klein said she now uses Ebay, as it is much easier to parse through the thousands of images she finds there, to find the resonate object, pregnant with the latent meaning of memories and significance from another life. These are family heirlooms no longer wanted, objects that were once beloved personal treasures, discarded into an anonymous world of commerce.
In the painting Burn to the Ground, an intense red background exerts an emotional tone. A candelabra with burning candles is placed on a red cloth- the subdued darkened shadows of the folds just barely differentiates it from the background color. The candelabra is painted realistically but in a narrow range of subdued grays, softly brushed into a slightly hazy presence. White highlights snap it into a more dimensional form: flames burn at the top of each candle. Floating in front of this image are two eyes, painted in a soft focus. They gaze out at us with an engaging look: wistful, longingly; spectral- suspended in space. A full photograph once placed them among family or friends or somewhere in the world- now they are ciphers of a forgotten place, time and person. A casual spray-painted bright blue line defines the outline of the head. At first glance they look like random marks, but swiftly the contour of the head snaps into mental focus. The overall tone of the painting fluctuates between macabre, like a scene from a B-grade 1950’s movie based on an Edgar Allan Poe story; and a love poem to an unknown past. There is a sense of ennui to this soul, whose invisible presence- but for the eyes- looks out at the living world. In this painting, as with several others, Klein uses a double gestalt, with a spatial ambiguity and a complex interchangeability of figure-ground. It adds another dimension to the psychological complexity that these paintings exert on the viewer, and opens another door into the metaphysical landscape of consciousness.
In several paintings, Klein has transformed images of dogs, shape-shifting them into mythical chimera. In Dog Resting in the Field, a large painting, the dark silhouette of a sphinx-like creature sits in a field of luminous earth tones- with amber, and olive colored hues. The gradient from dark to light is evocative- the deep chromatic tonalities of the background create a strong emotional resonance. The silhouette of this mythical beast is dark brown- it is painted in extremely subdued tones, delicately rendering its stripped fur, tail, and paws, whose strange appearance suggest the fingers of another creature. The face is barely discernable- darkness within darkness. Subtle highlights suggest eyes and a mouth, but we are staring into an unknowable visage whose inscrutable apparition both draws us in and pushes us away. Like the Sphinx whose riddle Oedipus answered, we are faced with a riddle, but for us it is the unanswered question that hovers before our eyes, eliciting the memories of ancient myths. It is a powerful painting- in it we can see how this medium of oil on canvas contains the potential to constantly renew itself, to convey in its supple, nerve-sensitive nature, the subjective universe of the artist’s imagination, heart and soul.
Ship Destroyer II is a painting whose allusion to surrealism is more deeply anchored. We can feel Magritte’s presence in this work; but unlike Magritte whose deadpan form of depiction added a strange universality to his haunting images, in Klein’s hand, each element is painted with a loving touch. She uses every tool needed to achieve a balance between the delicate formal relationships of color, atmosphere and image, to achieve a magical realism that flows from Renaissance painters, through Surrealism to the present. She uses a deft touch- not overworking the renderings of her subjects- to achieve a spectral image. They are fully depicted with space, light and volume, but in a subdued tonal range that give them a mirage-like dreaminess. In this painting, just the head of hair and a pearl necklace drawn from a photograph of a woman, float in a deep chocolate brown field of color. The hair and necklace becomes a frame within which a seashell contains a painting within a painting. Drawn from a distant era- we see a ship at sea; the sunlight dappled surface sparkles on the horizon. In the foreground two swans are entwined: a decorative element or maybe a symbol for safe passage. The images conjure stories of loss and reveries of a longing to journey. It is dreamlike and in a sense, an archivist’s collection of artifacts, that harkens to different eras.
When we spoke she said of her work, “I want to paint works that move people emotionally. I have always been drawn to Rothko’s statement, that when people weep before his paintings, they are having the same religious experience he had when he painted it. When I paint my paintings, I try to complete them in one sitting so I can stay in touch with the emotions that I feel about the images. I can do this with the smaller paintings, but I cannot do this on the larger works- maybe someday.”
These are profoundly beautiful paintings. They effortlessly expand into mythic narratives, and are moving retablos of the human condition. Nostalgic and novel, they capture the deep emotional longings conveyed through depictions of objects that are resonant with hopes and dreams, loss and sorrow.
Rae Klein is a gifted painter, with a natural ability to balance delicate elements in the rich repertoire of painting, to create works that instantly engage one and open the doors to the labyrinth of the complex universe of human consciousness. She is a dreamer whose dreams are manifested in poetically resonant images that capture the gossamer filaments of the imagination. WM