Vera Klement

Roy Boyd Gallery

The intensity of feeling and the power of investigation reflected in these recent paintings by Vera Klement is nothing short of astounding. The artist circumscribes chaos, evoking despair, fear, longing, and torment with such precision that she turns viewers into witnesses. Klement spent her childhood in Gdansk, and the bracing air of the Baltic still provides the ether around her images. The churning, turbulent handling of paint bespeaks her early experiences with Abstract Expressionism as a student in New York in the ’50s.

In most of the seven large paintings shown here, Klement juxtaposes her own figure with a landscape. The relationship eludes easy pictorial resolution. Using a diptych format and/or subtly overlaying scenes, Klement gives us image and landscape but omits their physical integration. Space is more a construct than constructed; setting is not contiguous, but accrued. Our experience of the figure and landscape is left in some nether zone that calls on thought as much as on vision. In the diptych Green Field and Red Spots ,1988, a figure is isolated against an unrelievedly white ground. The figure displays her wounds, her stigmata; she is a stark specter, a silent victim of the vicissitudes of existence. On the right panel is a depiction of a rich and verdant field, painted on a canvas glued onto the larger surface, its ragged edge clearly visible. This landscape has the heady scent of nature, its deep furrows and rich shades of brown and green speaking of the earth’s power to renew itself despite its perpetual rending, of its ability to nurture without question or end. Side by side, these two elements inform each other, but Klement’s mode of presentation denies any single narrative reading. We sense impending tragedy, yet we cannot identify it.

Klement uses paint not for its ability to act as a mimetic integer but for its own feel, weight, and substance. It is often roughly scumbled across the surfaces, splattered and strewn in layer upon layer, almost musical in its ease and bravura. In the seven smaller pictures that acted as a kind of coda to this exhibition, Klement has passages that are much more delicate and subtle. These pictures are quieter, but still speak to issues of ineluctable loss and disjunction. The human figure is replaced here by the metaphorical object: vessel, door, or brick. These elements enact wistful and sober exchanges with landscapes they abut but never reach. Here, Klement finds still greater meanings in the depths of disenfranchisement.

James Yood