Vera Klement War Monody, Autumn, Series #3, c. 2005 (2015)

University Club of Chicago

Wwar0105

Vera Klement (b. 1929) is an artist who embraces duality, isolation, and contradiction. Her art resides in an ambiguous middle between image and mark making, iconography and abstraction, and memory and timelessness, even during the time when the contemporary art world seemed split between styles of Abstract Expressionism and Pop/Chicago Imagism.

Her work stands apart, creating a practice that lives in its complexities and contradictions. Vera Klement was born in 1929 in Danzig (Gdańsk) on the Baltic coast, now Poland. At age nine, her family immigrated to New York City to escape from Nazi persecution. She studied at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture and graduated in 1950.

Klement’s early practice was influenced by Abstract Expressionism and inspired by the artists of the New York School. In 1965, she moved to Chicago and exhibited with “The Five,” a key group of artists in shaping Chicago’s art history whose work countered Chicago Imagism. Klement was interested in the relationship between abstraction and figuration and paint as both a subject on the canvas and a means to form an image.

 In the 1960s, she created window paintings; highly abstract representations of one figure looking out a window onto water or a sweeping landscape. These haunting abstractions are abundant with feelings of longing and isolation, two consistent themes in her practice. In mid- career, she created diptychs of disparate images that are never painted on the same picture plane.

These works evoke a sense of fragmented memories that suggest historic tragedies or traumas. This sense of a broken history is partially created by repeating the same objects throughout her career, including the vessel, head, boat, or tree. Klement called these images her “icons” and selected objects that were easily recognizable across multiple cultures and time periods.

Vera Klement (b. 1929) is an artist who embraces duality, isolation, and contradiction. Her art resides in an ambiguous middle between image and mark making, iconography and abstraction, and memory and timelessness even during the time when the contemporary art world seemed split between styles of Abstract Expressionism and Pop/Chicago Imagism. Her work stands apart, creating a practice that lives in its complexities and contradictions. 

Vera Klement was born in 1929 in Danzig (Gdańsk) on the Baltic coast, now Poland. At age nine, her family immigrated to New York City to escape from Nazi persecution. She studied at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture and graduated in 1950. Klement’s early practice was influenced by Abstract Expressionism and inspired by the artists of the New York School. In 1965, she moved to Chicago and exhibited with “The Five,” a key group of artists in shaping Chicago’s art history whose work countered Chicago Imagism. Klement was interested in the relationship between abstraction and figuration and paint as both a subject on the canvas and a means to form an image. 

In the 1960s, she created window paintings; highly abstract representations of one figure looking out a window onto water or a sweeping landscape. These haunting abstractions are abundant with feelings of longing and isolation, two consistent themes in her practice. In mid-career, she created diptychs of disparate images that are never painted on the same picture plane. These works evoke a sense of fragmented memories that suggest historic tragedies or traumas. This sense of a broken history is partially created by repeating the same objects throughout her career, including the vessel, head, boat, or tree. Klement called these images her “icons” and selected objects that were easily recognizable across multiple cultures and time periods. 
 

War Monody, Autumn, Series #3 (2005) is a vertically oriented diptych composition comprised of a photographic landscape scene atop a drawing. The diptych is from Klement’s War Monody series, which she began in 2003, that merges photographs of landscapes with drawings of individual heads. “Monody” is a poem for mourning someone’s death. The top photograph in the diptych is of a tightly cropped landscape scene of the autumn season, when the crisp withered ground only shows traces of its former fertile terrain. Along the lower central edge of the composition, thin pale yellow shrubbery tendril upward towards the right edge of the composition where collapsed tree branches and large stones are loosely amassed. Light evenly scatters across the wispy shrubbery and tops of trees, perhaps signaling the even veil of midday sun or afternoon light in an otherwise spatially ambiguous and uninhabited landscape scene.   
While the closely cropped photograph offers a dense area of shrubs and fallen branches, the drawing below the photograph is a much more minimal composition. In this work, one central head floats, decapitated, across the vacant white background of the paper. Oriented on its left side, the abstract head’s nose points towards the right and the chin is angled upward towards the photograph above. The artist’s gestural mark is evident throughout the linear texture and contours of the drawing, which also creates a formal similarity to the photograph above. Specifically looking at the forehead, wiry strokes of white, light grey, and dark black twist and wind aside and within each other, which delineates a surface texture that mirrors the sparse tendrils of the shrubbery in the photograph above. The horizontal head, isolated and detached from any trace of a body, also mirrors the broken fallen branches in the closely cropped photograph; both compositions are cut sections from a larger whole. Klement’s visual poem of mourning evokes a sense of absence and deterioration within the still desolate landscape, fallen branches, and decapitated human head. However, in the landscape photograph, one can remember that through the natural death from fall and winter comes the hope and fertility of impending spring.

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