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Nicola Upson ©2000
Anita Klein by Nicola Upson: introduction to catalogue 2000

Anita Klein

“And then there¹s the question of things happening, normally, all the time”
Virginia Woolf to Janet Case, 19 November, 1919

The question of things happening normally has, in the twentieth century at
least, been as unfashionable a subject for art as it was for literature
until Virginia Woolf suggested, through To the Lighthouse and The Waves that the
essence of life was to be found not just in big moments of history
but in everyday moments of being; not just in war or politics or noise, but in an
evening walk through the streets of London, in the knitting of a stocking, in the quiet
of ordinary things. The art of Anita Klein is built on a similar belief in the importance
of celebrating ordinariness. Put simply, her paintings are self-explanatory pictures of
her life; not at all grand in their intentions, they do not seek to impose on us, improve
us or even teach us anything. Yet in their joyful insistence on the everyday, in
the bold images which tell their own story, and in their funny, original perspective on
family life, they succeed on perhaps the most important level of all; as unfashionable
as it may be, Klein’s work actually makes us happy.

It would be fair to say that Klein’s style has developed in spite of, not because of, her
art school training. Coming from an academic rather than an artistic family, it was a
fortunate piece of self-knowledge that made her turn down a university place at the
age of eighteen in favour of a foundation course at the Chelsea School of Art. Six
years at the Slade followed, years in which the critical ethos was very much towards
big, aggressive and expressive rather than small, careful and neat. Finding herself in
an abstract studio where everybody else was throwing bits of sand
and wet concrete onto canvases, Klein felt obliged to follow suit; the result was a
series of diligently produced, large abstract paintings that meant absolutely nothing
to her and bore no resemblance to the work she was eventually to create.
Disillusioned with a career which was proving little more than an intellectual exercise,
Klein was at the point of leaving the art world completely when she decided to go
right back to her first love of drawing and find out what had gone wrong. As a child,
she had always expressed herself through small, autobiographical sketches;
returning to that technique, she stayed up all night producing tiny drawings of herself
in everyday situations: getting up, cleaning her teeth, having breakfast, catching a
bus. In that one night, she rediscovered the style which has remained with her ever
since. Encouraged by Paula Rego, with whom she shares a remarkable narrative
impulse, and Paul Caldwell, now head of printmaking at Camberwell, Klein
eventually acquired the confidence to abandon the abstract in favour of what was
right for her. It was a brave decision, but one which has since been endorsed by
galleries and collectors all over the world.

Although her early work was completed on a small scale in the belief that
only big statements warranted big canvases, Klein¹s new paintings are
nothing if not bold; picking up leaves, sewing on name tags and watching
Eastenders have taken on almost monumental proportions, and the only limit
now, she says, is the size of her roof-rack. As the paintings have grown,
though, her sense of composition has remained superb; prints are used as
sketches for the oils which come later, enabling her to make decisions about
shape and proportion early on and ensuring that nothing is arbitrary. The
time spent on abstract paintings has clearly not been wasted; in these
wonderfully figurative works, form and colour are strong defining

At the heart of Klein¹s painting lies a refusal to take happiness for
granted. Born into a Jewish family, with a father who escaped from Romania and
lost many of his relatives in the war, she is all too aware of its
transitory nature and conscious that, were she to lose everything tomorrow,
it is not the big events she would miss but the moments that are looked upon
as commonplace - kissing the children goodnight, having a take-away with the
family. It is that, above all else, which gives her work its universal
appeal: by singling out those individual hours and days, Klein uncovers the
wealth of reality and depth of life in every moment to which we surrender
ourselves. What happens in that moment concerns in a very personal way the
individuals who live within it, but it also, for that very reason, concerns
the fundamental things which people have in common.

Nicola Upson. 2000