Riding the wave between landscapes and abstraction
Artist Henry Klein channels passion for water into wave-worthy work
ADAMS — When artist Henry Klein arrived in the Berkshires in 1991, he was primarily focused on creating abstract paintings based on waves.
"I first came to the Berkshires to do this kind of work with these 'wave investigations.' They were a result of how pixels structure color," Klein said during a recent interview with The Eagle. "I did drawings of those. I painted them."
After two residencies with the Contemporary Artists Center, then located at the Beaver Mill in North Adams, he moved to North Berkshire in 1995, first renting a studio before settling in Adams.
Then, he participated in a plein air painting event with the Harrison Gallery in Williamstown and his work shifted focus. His work moved away from the colorful waves to the earthy tones of his plein air riverscapes of Tophet Brook in Adams.
"I like doing plein air. My landscapes are plein air. So are my waterscapes. What I like about waterscapes, my riverscapes, is that they are very close [up in view]," he said. "So many landscape paintings are from a distance and just end at the bottom of the canvas."
While Klein's paintings of Tophet Brook became the primary focus of his work, the artist said he never truly abandoned his love for the abstract.
"I did a collage workshop and started to collage together these wave pieces ... Then, I would get interested in the wave form again," he said. "I'd jump into another thing and push that. I have always been attracted to water. Then came the idea of thinking about these [his latest work]; my favorite subject, the river, and water; how they are connected; how the wave has a narrative and how you can learn about a subject."
Plein air painting's minimalist form, Klein said, has gotten him to a "very fun place, so far."
That place is one where the two mediums meet and bend into an amalgam of conceptual form: "Carpet Wave," a tidal wave made from commercial carpet pieces, and "45 wave," an installation of 45 rpm vinyl records in wave form.
"I wanted to do this giant wave, kind of conceptually surfing along, using these things. Then, as it came along, it turned into an environmental piece, as these [carpets] are primarily made out of plastic. A lot of these go to the landfill. It's something we have to figure out or eventually we're going to end up with a giant sea of plastic."
The new pieces, along with a retrospective of his wave paintings are currently on view as part of "'Probability Outcomes: Surfie" at the Real Eyes Gallery in Adams through Sunday, March 23.
The older work, and the new, may challenge some viewers, who are more accustomed to seeing his plein air work, Klein said.
"It's about constantly bridging the gap between landscapes and abstraction. It's funny because people are met with this challenge, of 'you're making this work' and then 'Oh, you're making this work.' I don't really care," he said. "And I'm constantly raising challenges with this work."
Bill Riley, who owns the gallery with his wife, Francie, said that Klein's shift between mediums and subjects isn't unusual for an artist.
"An artist may let a concept go dormant for a while, but they're never really done with it. They're waiting for the next step of where to take it," he said.
And regardless of whether or not people know Klein primarily as a plein air painter or not, the show is drawing interest from folks even as they walk by, Francie Riley said.
"As people walk by, they remember one of the songs [on the records] and start to sing it. They don't realize their interacting with the art," she said. "It's fun to watch and to listen to. We have one couple that stops during their walks and tries to stump each other with song lyrics."
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