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Richard Noyce ©2012
"Simply Profound, The Art of Anita Klein" by Richard Noyce for Art Concoction and Art Review India

There is a problem with much that purports to be ‘art’ in the contemporary world. It sometimes seems that, in order to be accepted in the rarefied atmosphere of galleries and critics, an artist needs to forget about making well crafted work (craft being a dirty word in this context) and attempting to communicate clearly with art buyers and lovers. Instead, it seems to be the norm to produce badly made things of throw-away value and to surround them with obscure and incomprehensible descriptions. What is worse is that this approach is easily emulated by young artists keen to jump on the celebrity artist bandwagon for their ‘fifteen minutes of fame’.

How refreshing, then, to encounter the art of Anita Klein. This London based artist understands implicitly that, while art is a product to be made and traded, it is primarily and most importantly a way of communication between the artist and the public, a medium for sharing what it means to be alive and aware. Her work is popular, but never dumbed down, and it is very well made. Her paintings and prints can be understood at first viewing but, like all good art, become better known and more satisfying through repeated viewings. They do not challenge by presenting something unfamiliar, indeed they offer the familiar in ways that can be accepted with ease. In technical terms, the excellence of Anita Klein’s work is beyond question. She uses colour with assurance, and the composition of her works follows the classical traditions. It is this last point that offers a clue, and an insight into just what it is that makes this work so appealing to the eye, and satisfying to the mind.

Anita cites the painters of the early Italian renaissance as one of her main influences, and in particular Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico. The clarity of the work of these painters, and the single-mindedness of their devotion to the making of art, has remained impressive throughout the centuries. Another clue to the genesis of her own work is her admiration of the Ukiyo-e school of printmaking in Japan, in particular Utamaro. On the face of it the disparity between these two major influences might seem puzzling; but on reflection the similarities are those of precise composition, wonderful colour and, most of all that, as Klein herself puts it, ‘These pictures radiate calm and harmony, are rigourously designed although they can seem very simple because everything is in the right place’. Another clue to her work comes in her admiration of Mughal miniatures, not so much the records of grand courtly occasions, but those that celebrate daily life. To achieve that sense of rightness does not come easily, but is the result of her traditional training at the Chelsea and Slade Schools of Art in London, and beyond that many years of hard personal work, travelling and engagement with printmaking and painting, including her past presidency of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers’, of which she is a Fellow.

While the early Italian painters produced works of essentially religious meaning, reflecting the strict theology and hierarchy of the Catholic church to produce images intended to educate and inspire, the printmakers in the Ukiyo-e period revelled in the depiction of everyday life and relationships, of the lives of people lived in public and in private. Anita Klein’s work is largely autobiographical, based on scenes of married love, domesticity, children, travels, and friends. The simple and yet continually self-renewing patterns of daily life provide a rich source of subject material, a delight in the small details and fleeting moments of humour that enrich her life: they are, essentially, happy works of art that celebrate and applaud the ordinary. However, as with so much good art, there is a darker side that Klein chooses not reveal explicitly in her work. Her father’s family were ‘Hungarian Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe who lost everything (including family members) apart from their lives’. Happiness, depicted in her essentially joyful works, always has its flip side, as joy and loss are inextricably entwined.

In her more recent series of Italian paintings (acrylic on canvas or on paper) Klein celebrates the new delights she has found since buying a second home in Italy and spending a week or more each month there. These paintings are richly coloured, visually engaging, seductive and mysterious, giving an insight into a world of careful recording and imagination, in which angels and mortals share the light and heat, the sunlight and shadows of an idyllic world, seizing the passing moments before they pass, and breathing deeply. The London paintings, in oil, acrylic or watercolour, are equally celebratory, but the pace is different and the colours slightly more muted. The viewer is invited into a private world, not as a voyeur, but as a witness. There are moments of introspection, other moments of humour, snatched moments with her husband, watching television in bed, or rising to draw the curtains, the intimacy of domestic harmony.

Anita Klein’s prints are made in a wide range of techniques, including intaglio and relief processes as well as screen prints, some monochrome, others in colour. The subject matter and inspiration are similar to that of her paintings, but in response to the constraints of the print medium have a stronger graphic quality, although demonstrating the same commitment to skill and to the integrity of her approach to art as is evident in her paintings. There is, of course, a distinction between the paintings - which are essentially unique works of art - and the prints - which are produced in editions - and this is reflected not only in the differential in prices, but also in their availability to collectors and art lovers of all kinds. What unites all these works is their honesty, resulting in work images that find their place in peoples’ homes and lives, rewarding repeated viewings, and producing delight. That is a rare gift in the art world.

(Note: Anita Klein is represented in India by Art Concoction, who presented her work at the India Art Festival in Mumbai, November 2011)

RIchard Noyce

Wales, March 2012