Vera Klement

Marianne Deson Gallery

In the 1960s, Vera Klement painted on a massive scale, largely in response to the abundant Chicago building-lobby exhibition space, in which anything under nine square feet is totally lost. Klement (a small-frame woman) found a pragmatic way of scaling down parts of her work so she could handle and transport it—Chicago building-lobby shows usually provide no transportation. She constructed canvas sections which, when juxtaposed, looked like the continuous surface of one painting, but could be easily disassembled for carrying home.

But this physical division could not help but affect the content of the painting. As with much other Chicago art which can be called “synthesis” work, her canvas sections produced a feeling of almost architectural wall divisions on which great, sweeping, unpredictable gestures were enacted and contained, something similar to the way Miesian window-walls reflect unpredictable patterns of light.

By the ’70s, Klement’s canvas sections led to “narratives,” the content of one section seeming somehow to cause or result in the content of the next. The progression and relationship of sections was often similar to the relationship between movements of a sonata, intrinsically connected yet often imaginable as parts of another whole composition. She herself spoke of these works as different but related stages of a reaction to some event, for instance the death of a friend. Regular undulations of paint signify the heartbeats of continuous life, with juxtaposed sections resembling the agitation of shock, the vapidity of resignation, and finally the wildness of release.

Most recently, Klement has scaled down her work, often to small- and medium-sized pastels and paintings about four feet square, yet still retaining canvas sections. In her current show, an arresting new trait is the odd, almost image-oriented amalgamation of layered, glutted paint. In one case, this overall design resembles some rumbling explosion with juxtaposed nuclear clouds, the unity defied by the wild strokes which make it up. And Klement’s color now has broken loose from categories. It is now possible to sense the existence of unseen colors below those which are most easily visible, as if the layers could be peeled apart; thus the vitality of her unison is continually challenged by pulling away within the composition.

—C. L. Morrison