Mysterious Skin


Michael Dupree chats with the somewhat minimal, palpable painter Martin Kline.

Imagine a mandala that, rather than leading you to inner peace through its shimmering colors and spiritual images, reaches out to touch you physically. Or a dense tangle of polychrome smudges that seems to radiate pure energy as your focus grows ever more concentrated.

Such might be your experience when Hudson Valley%26ndash;based painter Martin Kline delivers his seductive, incomparably fluent works for a second show that recently opened at Meredith Long %26amp; Company (through this month).

Kline, whose studio is set amidst 400 acres of bucolic farmland, has studied and been influenced by European modernism but is resolutely in the new American art camp, producing wall-size images and sculpture that obliquely reference nature, force and even politics. The initial impression that Kline is a minimalist turns out to be, at best, a quarter right. Though his pieces reflect the sensibility that art should be considered only on its own terms, interpretations are not only welcomed, but encouraged. A dazzling swirl of azure in a painting barely contained by its linear frame could allude to flowers, the cosmos or the nucleus of a single cell (maybe lichen in a Tim Burton movie?). The tussle between the center and periphery is another optical subject to explore. Kline%26rsquo;s preferred media is encaustic (pigmented wax), and this gives his work a palpable, sculptural presence. Gridded and swirling works might suggest Josef Albers%26rsquo; multi-hued abstractions married to the jazzed energy of Pollock, but they invite us in past the more obvious patterns, just as the White Rabbit beckoned Alice. And his sculptures are biomorphic yet primitive %26mdash; chthonic even.

Kline, an Ohio native, is also warm, engaging and witty. Though many artists find it difficult to discuss their oeuvre, he is more than approachable. I can think of no better activity on a warm May night than to chat up a talent whose works are among the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fogg Museum at Harvard and our own Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Images:

Top: Martin Kline%26rsquo;s Yellow Rose, encaustic on panel, 68x48

Below: Martin Kline%26rsquo;s Istanbul, encaustic on panel, 96x48

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