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ISSUE 38 Artist Statement

Martin Kline

Cover Art: Hammocks

For more than twenty years, encaustic has been my primary medium. Encaustic is wax that is heated to a liquid state and either pigmented or left natural. I have sought to expose the medium’s inherent qualities: that it is liquid, that you can draw with it and that it is sculptural. Encaustic cools quickly so there is no “drying time.” Shadow is pervasive and results in surfaces of literal chiaroscuro. Wax is also the primary tool used in casting works into metal, primarily in bronze and stainless steel, in my case. Wax is thus transformed from delicate and ephemeral to permanent and indestructible. 

With this medium, I have applied encaustic primarily to panels and stretched canvases but also occasionally to objects: chairs, shirts, shoes, baseball bats and hammocks. Associations with these articles are automatic to each of us. 

In the Hammocks series, vintage World War II Navy hammocks are employed. These particular hammocks belonged to sailors and were used in stressful times, during war. But a hammock itself is a symbol of leisure and relaxation. The hammocks served as beds and thereby communicate the activities associated with them: rest, sleep, dreams, sex. In the studio, the hammock is a readymade object and the blank white canvas is a form of tabula rasa on which to project. Through the last six years, the series evince a wide range of subjects: work versus relaxation, anxiety, fear and isolation. Military themes, nautical and seafaring references abound. There are chapters of joy and serenity as well. 

In his essay, “Other Criteria,” Leo Steinberg touched on the 19th century artist Thomas Eakins and his challenge to the established notion that making art wasn’t bona-fide work. The prevalent belief was that it was an activity of leisure or pleasure and therefore both the activity (and the resulting object) lacked the moral standing of traditionally defined labor. This long-standing conviction is largely in place today, that making art is neither a serious endeavor nor is it authentic work. 

The series started with two motifs, one of a honeycomb structure and the other of a spider web. Bees work as a team constantly to ensure their survival. Spiders make webs to capture prey. They cannot stop working or let down their guard or they might perish. That both web and honeycomb are distorted hint both at man’s interference with the natural world and the unknown consequences. 

ARTIST BIO: Martin Kline was born in 1961 in Norwalk, Ohio and came under the influence of art by way of the neighboring museums of Cleveland, Toledo, and Oberlin, which were formative to his upbringing. Kline is the tenth of thirteen children and he put himself through college by joining the National Guard in 1979. He graduated from Ohio University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1983, with a dual major: the first in Studio Art, in the three disciplines of Drawing, Sculpture and Printmaking, and second in Art History with an emphasis on the Italian Renaissance. Kline went to Rome and Florence for the last quarter of college and moved to Portland, Oregon where he began his fledgling career as an artist. He was also a museum guard at the Portland Art Museum (which he refers to as his second education). During this time, he was also teacher at the Pacific Northwest College of Art specializing in color pencil drawing for one year. 

Kline moved to New York City in the late 1980s and to the Hudson Valley in 1995, where he lives and keeps his studio. He began to work in encaustic (pigmented wax paint) in 1996 and this has been his primary medium, along with the resultant sculptures in bronze and stainless steel, as wax is the vehicle for casting in metal. His work is in the permanent collections of important American and European museums such as the Albertina, The Metropolitan Museum and the Morgan Library Museums in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as significant University museums such as the Fogg Museum at Harvard, Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Museum and the Princeton Museum of Art. His work is represented and exhibited in galleries in America and Europe. Kline’s work has also been purchased and commissioned by the American architect Peter Marino for placement in the stores of Dior, Vuitton, Chanel in Europe, Asia and America, as well as a private yacht and numerous residences.