Throughout the course of his career, Martin Kline has examined systems of historicism and presentation, his focused and disciplined approach creating bodies of works in series, each with their distinctive visual language. For his third solo exhibition at the gallery, the artist presents his newest group of paintings entitled Allover.
Among many investigations, Kline has looked into notions of authenticity, sincerity and originality and, as he states, there comes a point where “you cannot escape Jackson Pollock.” Back in 2007, Kline paid homage to the Abstract Expressionist by throwing, for the first time, pigments onto a surface, resulting in a black, white and silver chromed composition entitled Dream of Pollock (for Kirk Varnedoe). The tribute stopped at the random process and palette, for Kline favored his own signature material de rigeur, encaustic, over Pollock’s industrial enamels, and opted for a wood panel support instead of the canvas. This deliberate choice had purpose, for the panel was constructed with a framed edge, adding dimension to and containment of the splashes and drips. More importantly, its rigidity permitted the more orderly and heavily textured surfaces for which Kline is known to morph and expand from the center over the splattered frenetic loose entanglements. Dream of Pollock was indeed just that, a reference from the subconscious melding into Kline’s own autographic gestures.
Thereafter, Kline moved on to explore other processes in painting (as well as sculpture), refining his technique and testing the properties and limits of the waxy pigmented material. By either building sculptural surfaces with the use of a paint brush or pushing the encaustic through the weave of the canvases from behind, Kline manipulated the soft material in different ways, thoroughly probing ideas and processes. These resulted in cohesively developed outputs, series of works with their own style and identifiable traits, such as the structured, additive Blossoms and the like, the white Belgian linen Tabula Rasa paintings and the prolific Hammocks series. Last year, he revisited the automatist drip technique seen in Dream of Pollock, an exercise that resulted in the new Allover series.
Beginning with the palette from the Venice paintings, the Allover series developed into a group of multi-colored, strictly monochromatic abstractions. Gone are the compositional focal points experienced in his Blossoms and other textured paintings, or the narrative entry points characteristic of the Hammock assemblages. In these new paintings, thick and thin rivulets, thread-like flicked markings and skeins of encaustic interweave with broader poured bands of color. These wider calligraphic-like gestures are reminiscent of demi-lunes, koi or other quasi-biomorphic forms. Kline was a grant recipient for a residency in Japan back in 2005, an experience that was to inform his artmaking. Among other things, he learnt the art of calligraphy, its rhythms and compositions, the slowing down and concentration the technique requires.
In the Allover paintings, the larger poured calligraphic swaths are deliberate, “in calligraphy you have to concentrate, be in a zone, you can’t take it back,” he states. These careful, purposeful pours are juxtaposed with seemingly more chaotic and random drizzles looping on themselves, offering a contrast, a push and pull between the meditative and the emotive. The paintings are not merely monochromatic optical fields of encaustic webs or meshes, there is a distinction between line, bands of color and ground.
Kline may be revisiting the spontaneous technique Pollock became famous for, but Pollock’s approach to painting horizontally has been very much decidedly Kline’s from early on. The artist has mostly worked on his surfaces laid horizontally, typically on a tabletop. His earlier ink and watercolor Liquid Grids dating back to the 1990s and his additive encaustic paintings since then have necessitated a horizontal positioning, the pull of gravity fastening the pigments in situ while drying. For the most part, Kline’s hand has had a direct touch through the use of a paintbrush on the paper, panel or canvas. In these Allover paintings, Kline is still working horizontally but he has severed the traditional anatomical connection, distancing himself from the surface even more by placing the panels on the floor. This increased space between the tips of his brushes and the pour from the cans to the points of contact relinquishes control and allows for randomness and elements of surprise to occur. The expanded room for automatism in the process is reflected in the abstraction. Without having identifiable compositional centers on which to converge, the viewer’s eye has more autonomy to wander all over the painted surface and engage with it indiscriminately.
Additionally, the absence of a frame confining the edges, the clean panel sides free of pigments revealing the process suggest the drips and calligraphic gestures travel beyond the picture plane. It is as if the viewer is getting a snapshot, a window into elements that exist outside the painting’s boundaries. This series in Kline’s oeuvre achieves singularity and it will be intriguing to observe how they will foretell and relate to future bodies of work in the artist’s overall continuum.