Contributed by Sharon Butler / Martin Kline’s meticulous and thoughtful abstractions, on view at Heather Gaudio Fine Art, are deceptively simple. At first glance, they might appear merely technically accomplished and visually striking. Drill down a little, though, and they recall the action of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and the loaded surfaces of Jasper Johns’s flags.
With vivid, highly saturated color, Kline uses hot encaustic technique to build an active surface of swirling wax embedded with pigment. The shapes and patterns that emerge may suggest images – enlarged fibers and blood vessels or koi swimming in a backyard fishpond come to mind. But Kline is more interested in process and the tactile quality of the object than easy visual correspondences or recognizable images. In a 2016 interview, art historian Barbara Rose said she felt he was engaged with what she considered the central issues of serious painting: “the relationship between chance and structure, the emergence of image from process, extreme attention to detail and craft, and above all, the realization that paintings are not addressed to eyesight alone but also to haptic and kinetic responses.” Five years later, he is still exploring these issues as he continues to expand his painterly vocabulary.
Each new painting features a unified composition, and purposefully lacks a central image. Thus freed of the distraction of narrative focus, the process itself yields metaphorical meaning: no single area is more privileged, or built up, than any another, giving these pieces a pleasurably egalitarian feel. Positioning his large panels horizontally on the floor, Kline, like Pollock, applies the hot wax somewhat randomly. Yet he also works slowly and deliberately. The result is a carefully controlled fusion of color, pattern, gesture, and object. He is particularly interested in the shadows made by the more robust skeins of paint, and he has cast earlier paintings into bronze reliefs. Some of the panels, framed before painting, have drips and lines encroaching onto the frames and edges despite Kline’s careful process, like polite intrusions into the viewer’s space.
The handsome result is gestural but tightly so, reflecting emotion tempered by discipline. They may be subtly referential but never obvious or superficial, imparting as much through their lush materiality as through their visual content. Owing to his fine sense of balance, Kline’s work probes without agitating, a quality well-suited to a world in which cautious determination seems significant.
“Martin Kline: Allover Paintings,” Heather Gaudio Fine Art, 66 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT. Through March 6, 2021.