Deborah Klein – Artist

DK Portrait

Deborah Klein divides her time between Abbotsford, an inner city suburb of Melbourne and Ballarat, in south-western Victoria. Her website is http://www.deborahklein.net/ and she has two blog sites:
Art blog: http://deborahklein.blogspot.com/
Book blog: http://mothwomanpress.blogspot.com/

Interests you have other than art you feel are important to mention?

I’m interested in other art forms, including, music, theatre, literature and film. They have all impacted on my work – particularly film.

Mildred Pierce on St. Kilda Pier, 1995, linocut, 65 x 46 cm

What are the main medium/s you work in…

Printmaking, drawing, painting, and artist books

Lace Face, 1996, linocut, 46 x 30 cm

Does your work have social, political, cultural and or personal messages?

My visual language has evolved over the years and is multi-layered. Many works pay homage to women and their creative histories.

The work is unified by its concern for women: the untold numbers who have been completely written out of history, the courage of those women and girls who must still fight seemingly unsurmountable odds to have their voices heard.

Chocolate Argus Winged Woman, 2010, linocut, 40 x 40 cm

What fascinates you?

Recently I’ve become fascinated by animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger’s silhouette films, especially her masterpiece The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). Her films were the primary inspiration for my current silhouette-based work.

I’m also fascinated by silent film. Before the invention of sound, movies told their stories almost entirely without words. They had subtitles, but these needed to be succinct in order to ensure minimum interruption to the primarily visual narratives. I’ve only just become aware of parallels with my current artist books. Each one has a short descriptive title, but the narratives are entirely visual.

Homarsupial and Lyrebird, 2013, unique artist's books, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Can you give us a more descriptive outline on your current works.

My first solo exhibition to focus entirely on silhouettes has recently finished. The exhibition was in two parts: a wall-based installation of thirteen vertical one-of-a-kind concertina books and an installation of miniature silhouette paintings. I’m now in the process of extending and developing both of these series.

Miniature silhouettes, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 7 cm, 7 x 9 cm and 5 x 7 cm

Why are you an Artist?

I’ve never stopped to question why – it’s all I ever wanted to be.

I had always loved art, but until early adulthood the only significant works I’d seen were in the National Gallery of Victoria or reproduced in art books. Moving to London in 1973 changed my life. Over my seven and a half years based there, I also travelled widely and saw a great deal of extraordinary contemporary and historical art in the flesh.

Soon after arriving in London I visited Paris for the first time. It was this trip and the artwork I saw there that galvanized me into becoming a fully committed artist, rather than just paying lip service to the idea. After that there was no turning back. I drew and painted for most of the time I was in London. But increasingly I felt the need for a more formal education. In 1982, the year after my return to Melbourne, I enrolled in art school as a mature age student.

Harpy and The Maiden Flight, 2013, unique artist's books, 2013, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

 

Your art education was…?

and still is, broadened and enriched immeasurably by experiencing art firsthand, not just on a computer screen. There is no substitute for the power of the original work. The Internet is a useful resource, but as Jonathan Jones recently wrote in The Guardian: “The entire online world is less substantial than a single piece of paint on one of Rembrandt’s encrusted canvases.”

On a more formal level, I gained a Bachelor of Fine Art (Printmaking) at Chisholm Institute of Technology, Melbourne (1982-1984) a Graduate Diploma at Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education (1987-1988) and a Master of Arts (Research) at Monash University, Gippsland Campus (1995-1997).

Fuchsia and Cactus Flower, unique artist's books, 2013, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

What did you do before or during becoming an Artist?

For some years I worked in offices. In those pre-computer days I was an abysmal typist and gradually drifted into retail. The benefit of both livelihoods was that I didn’t have to take the work home with me. In my own time, I was free to make my artwork.

Immediately after graduating from art school I worked for several months at David Jones department store as on-call casual. It was a stupefyingly mindless job. Rescue came later in the same year, when I was offered a six-months long position at the Print Council of Australia. After that time elapsed, the PCA employed me as a permanent part-time administrative assistant. I worked there for over two years. It was demanding but also very stimulating. I learned a great deal, met some amazing people and made some lasting friendships, most notably with Diane Soumilas. Many years later she would curate the touring survey exhibition Deborah Klein – Out of the Past 1995 – 2007.

In the early-mid 1990s I ran occasional linocut classes for beginners at the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne. Between 1999-2008 I was a part-time lecturer in the Printmaking and Drawing Departments at RMIT University. I enjoyed teaching, but finally left to work as a full-time artist.

Is there any one thing that has given you a big buzz in your art career so far? 

In 1992 I received a letter from the Australia Council informing me that my application for a three-month studio residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris was successful. It was a tremendous thrill and completely unexpected, especially as it was the first time I’d ever applied for a grant. When I opened the envelope I was so geared to reading a letter of rejection, it took several moments to get my mind around the letter’s actual content.

Do you remember your first artwork?

One of the first artworks I remember seeing was Ulysses and the Sirens (1891) by John Waterhouse at the National Gallery of Victoria, which was then situated in the State Library of Victoria building. I must have carried the memory of that work with me from then on because decades later I began the Myth-entomology series, which included a flock of winged women. Although my linocuts and paintings were drawn from personal, rather than classical mythology, I’m certain the series had its origin in the Waterhouse painting.

Common Rose Swallowtail Winged Woman, 2010, acrylic on linen, 36 x 36 cm

Was art a “thing” that was encouraged in your family?

My family was always encouraging, although my mother had the greatest input, introducing me to books, film, music and the visual and performing arts. She also took me on my first visits to the Melbourne Museum and National Gallery of Victoria.

Art wasn’t viewed as a serious profession, however, and I was discouraged from studying it at tertiary level. By the time I put myself through art school as a mature age student, I’d lived overseas for several years, was passionate about art and knew very definitely that it was what I wanted for myself. But I’m still grateful to my mother for sowing those first seeds.

Fishwife and Sea horsewoman, unique artist's books, 2013, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Did the place where you grew up have an influence?

Growing up in 1950s and 60s St. Kilda was in many ways a lonely and isolating experience. It was a very different place when I was a child and adolescent: sadly run down and rather seedy. Yet it had a certain mystique, and looking back through admittedly nostalgic eyes, far more depth than it has today. St. Kilda-related iconography infiltrated my work for many years, and even now occasionally makes an appearance. The Film Noir quality of the downtrodden St. Kilda of my past, with its fun fair, beach, pier and art deco buildings, was another driving force behind many of my works: the seminal Pirate Jenny Prints, 1988, the Film Noir series, including the linocut Mildred Pierce on St. Kilda Pier, 1995 and from the Tattooed Faces and Figures series, Luna Park Face, 1996 and St.Kilda Warrior, 1996.

Eve's Apple and Tree House, 2013, unique artist's books, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Has your work changed much since your early efforts? 

There was a great emphasis placed on drawing from life when I was an undergraduate, which I’m very thankful for. But I don’t remember us being encouraged to draw from our interior lives. My first post-art school works were large-scale drawings and linocuts drawn directly from my immediate environment.

In 1987 I undertook a Graduate Diploma at Gippsland School of Art (now Monash University) as a part-time student. I was accepted into the course on the basis of my interiors and still-lifes. But these genres had already ceased to challenge me.

On a train journey to Gippsland I first got the idea for what became the Pirate Jenny Prints, a suite of linocuts inspired by a character in The Threepenny Opera, which I’d always loved. I remember scribbling like a crazy woman in my sketchbook for the entire journey, fearful of losing the germs of ideas that appeared to come from nowhere.

Written by Bertolt Brecht (book and lyrics) and Kurt Weill (music) The Threepenny Opera (1928) was set in London’s Soho and populated by prostitutes, thieves and murderers. In actuality, it was a satire of Germany’s Weimar Republic. At the time I conceived my works, I was back in St. Kilda, living in Grey Street, then one of its more squalid pockets. I wanted to tap into the singular energy and edge St Kilda had at that time, just prior to its gentrification. Prostitutes used to line up in front of my block of flats. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to transfer the opera’s original setting to my hometown, although in the end, it only featured in some of the works. The Pirate Jenny Prints freed me, enabling me to draw inspiration from other art forms and to incorporate more personal narratives. Essentially it became the cornerstone for all the work that followed.

This was a dual turning point, as it was also the first time I met Euan Heng. He was my supervisor and became a lifelong mentor. I had been accepted into the course on the basis of the interiors and still-lifes, but he supported and encouraged the direction into new and uncharted territory.

Pirate Jenny at Luna Park, 1988, linocut, 61.5 x 45.5 cm

Have your artistic influences altered over time (e.g. artists.)

From secondary school level, if not even earlier, my favourite artists were Rembrandt van Rijn and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, although Rembrandt’s work was more an inspiration than an influence. The line up has expanded considerably since then. But these two still loom large on my list, which now includes David Hockney, Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Paula Rego, Maria Sybylla Merian, Rogier van der Weyden, Rene Magritte, Bill Viola, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Christian Schad, Euan Heng, Stanley Spencer, Edward Hopper, William Larkin, Caspar David Friedrich, Vincent van Gogh, Francisco Goya, Peter Blake, Johannes Vermeer, Hans Memling, Lionel Lindsay, Marcus Gheeraerts II, William Blake, Nicholas Hilliard, Hans Holbein, Annette Messager, William Kentridge, Gwen John, Grayson Perry, Marcel Dzama and Lucian Freud.

In addition, the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Georges Melies, G. W. Pabst, Fritz Lang, Josef von Sternberg, F. W. Murnau, Louis Feuillade, Paul Leni, Robert Weine, Orson Welles, Charles Laughton and Lotte Reiniger have also been influential.

Corporeal_Ethereal, 2012, linocut, 60 x 50 cm

You know you are successful in Visual Arts when…

you are consistently making your work, setting yourself new challenges and goals, and remaining true to your vision, regardless of fads, fashions and the fickleness of the art world.

How important do you think craftsmanship is to artistic creation?

It’s essential that works be as well crafted as artists can possibly make them. Artistic creation shouldn’t just be about the concept. We owe it to our artwork and those who buy it in good faith. Shoddily made works can also create nightmares for conservators.

Craftsmanship is integral to my visual language – for example, the Knots and Braids (1998-2004). The main focus of the series was the high price that can be paid for physical perfection, exemplified by the women’s meticulously wrought hairstyles. If the imagery had not been well crafted, its basic concept would have been undermined.

Maid Made, 1999, acrylic on canvas 30 x 22.5cm (centre) 17.5 x 12.5 cm (L and R panels)

Do you have much contact with other artists?

My partner Shane Jones is also an artist, as are a number of friends. I’m very fortunate to have access to them for mutual discussions about work and ideas.

A year ago I became acquainted with Deborah McMillion, an Arizona-based artist. She first contacted me after seeing some of my work on the Internet and recognizing many mutual thematic similarities. She’s become a firm friend, although we’ve never met face to face. We frequently discuss our work, all the while discovering what an uncanny amount we have in common. I’ve come to value her informed and honest feedback, especially when I hit a brick wall with what I’m doing.

On occasion I’ve worked collaboratively with other artists on themed exhibitions. This can also be an extremely rewarding experience.

Any upcoming or completely new projects you want to talk about?

I’m currently making work for Wonder Room, a large-scale group exhibition at Maroondah Art Gallery that opens on 17 October. It’s an example of a collaborative project between five like-minded artists: myself, Rona Green, Heather Shimmen, Paul Compton and Filomena Coppola.

The exhibition’s point of departure is the Wunderkämmer. The idea of an eclectic collection is liberating – it encourages a far greater diversity of work, embracing differences and contrasts, rather than mix-and-match aesthetic similarities. As part of my contribution, I plan to extend and develop the fledgling silhouette works. In addition, I’ve created a collection of diminutive insect women – 30 watercolour paintings that reside in a miniature plan cabinet. Also in progress is a limited edition portfolio of “Unnatural History” illustrations comprising hand-coloured linocuts.

Emergent Cicada Woman, 2013, linocut, hand coloured, 22 x 18.5 cm

What has been a turning point in your career thus far and why?

A key turning point was in 1997, when my linocut The Lair of the Lyrebird was awarded the Grand Prize, Silk Cut Award for Linocut Printmaking.

The Lair of the Lyrebird, 1997 Linocut on interfacing, hand stitching 64 x 74 cm

The prize was an all-expenses-paid stay in Amsterdam. I’m a long time admirer of Flemish art and the city is renowned for its museums, most famously, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. It is also the home of Rembrandt, one of my first artist-heroes. His house, now a museum filled with his sublime etchings, was another highlight.

Winning the Silk Cut brought a nod of affirmation from my peers and also led to teaching work. The award was acquisitive; the National Gallery of Australia and Bendigo Art Gallery acquired the remaining prints from the edition of three.

The Lair of the Lyrebird was an experimental print made as part of my Master of Arts Degree at Monash University. I was awarded a Monash Graduate Scholarship, which enabled me to undertake a concentrated period of research. During that time my ideas and imagery changed dramatically; this was the work that spearheaded that change. For the second time, Euan Heng was my supervisor and once again he supported the new direction, rather than forcing me to stick rigidly to my original proposal. Conceptually this work sent me even further along the path towards the work I make today.

ARTWORKS FROM TOP:

Mildred Pierce on St. Kilda Pier, 1995, linocut, 65 x 46 cm

Lace Face, 1996, linocut, 46 x 30 cm

Chocolate Argus Winged Woman, 2010, linocut, 40 x 40 cm

Homarsupial and Lyrebird, 2013, unique artist’s books, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Miniature silhouettes, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 7 cm, 7 x 9 cm and 5 x 7 cm. Wooden display case 32 x 32 cm

Harpy and The Maiden Flight, 2013, unique artist’s books, 2013, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Fuchsia and Cactus Flower, unique artist’s books, 2013, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Common Rose Swallowtail Winged Woman, 2010, acrylic on linen, 36 x 36 cm

Fishwife and Sea horsewoman, unique artist’s books, 2013, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Eve’s Apple and Tree House, 2013, unique artist’s books, ink and acrylic on handmade Khadi paper, each 80 x 15 cm (open)

Pirate Jenny at Luna Park, 1988, linocut, 61.5 x 45.5 cm

Corporeal/Ethereal, 2012, linocut, 60 x 50 cm

Maid Made, 1999, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 22.5cm (centre) 17.5 x 12.5 cm (L and R panels)

Emergent Cicada Woman, 2013, linocut, hand coloured, 22 x 18.5 cm

The Lair of the Lyrebird, 1997, linocut on interfacing, hand stitching 64 x 74 cm

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