Deborah Klein Essay


Published Wednesday, 2 January 2002

Klein engages personal symbols in her work constructing layers of meaning through a system of public and private signs. Identity, gender and feminism are issues that concern this artist and provides the impetus for her iconology. Her work demonstrates the creative reconciliation between concepts and artistic technique.

Image: Lace face, 75 x 55cm; oil and water soluble pastel; 1999.

As a painter and printmaker her approach to art making makes specific reference to history and modes of representation. Klein recognises the importance of the portrait to establish an active dialogue between the artwork and the audience. Her use of the human face allows for a manifestation of meanings to the audience which are construed in private and public references.

Primarily involved in printmaking Klein identifies a strong graphic quality that can be produced with the lino block. She finds that block printing offers an immediacy and tactility which is unique to this medium. Within The Face series the linear quality reveals a competent handling in cutting the block, while the arrangement of the composition demonstrates a sound understanding of the subject matter. The potent graphic quality that appears in all her worked reflects a rich accumulation of knowledge and handling of the materials.

Klein acknowledges the importance of a sense of history in terms of depicting the subject matter. She states that not only does she incorporate lengthy studies into the subject matter but also she has studied the conventions of signs and symbols in Medieval and Renaissance art. She demonstrates the importance of a thorough knowledge of history to assist in the synthesis of her image making and concepts.

Her work often leads her to examine the roles and social expectation of gender. Her work couples these concerns with the development of a symbolic order in her designs. The interplay of symbols and the treatment of the portrait highlights the eloquence of her work. Klein offers a personal account in her work which examine the identity of women in both their social and cultural situation. The metaphoric value of lace, sewing and tattoos reveals specific layers of meaning to the identity of being a woman. Her prints are not overtly didactic but rather subtle examinations of identity and gender in specific cultural and historic situations. Personal and social histories serve as a catalyst for her image making. Her portraits become personal and public narratives, giving the audience an account of women in history. The Faces are the development of imagery that synthesises intuitive response to gender representational which is informed by critical and historical research.

The portrait becomes a vehicle for examining identity in a feminine and feminist context. The unity between the technical proficiency in the handling of material and artistic techniques coupled with the interplay of concepts resonating form the subject matter is what produces a body of work which is resolute in approach and execution.

Her faces reveal a body of work that represents a specific approach to art making that is informed by detailed research into the subject matter to ensure conceptual resolution. The accumulation of research and preparatory drawings provide a sound basis for he visually and conceptually rich artworks. She understands the need for clarity when incorporating complex issues into her imagery. Her prints and paintings testify to the importance of resolving ideas and formal qualities before starting an artwork.

By Craig Malyon

Questions on the Artist

  • Explain how the examination of history has greatly influenced Deborah Klein art practice and how it serves as a catalyst for her images?
  • What is relief printing?
  • How are feminist concerns entwined into Klein's work?
  • Explain the significance of the Face in Klein's body of work?
  • What is chine-colle? How is it used in printmaking?
  • What is the relationship of the use of lace and the tattoos inscribed on the female face?
  • Write a critical analysis of Laceface?

Artists connections

Historical Contemporary
Artimesia Gentileschi Julie Rrap
Mary Cassatt Rebecca Horn
Meret Oppenheim Louise Bourgeois
Judy Chicago Cindy Sherman

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