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Martin Kline: Romantic Nature Coming to NBMAA

Martin Kline: Romantic Nature, on view at the New Britain Museum of American Art from March 17 to June 17, is the first major retrospective of artist Martin Kline. Consisting of approximately sixty works, the exhibition charts the various points of evolution in Kline’s artistic career from his subtle, expressionistic drawings and watercolors to evocative, textured, and often monumental three-dimensional encaustic paintings and cast-metal sculptures. Kline’s work conjures a phantasmagoria of ideas and associations, from both Eastern and Western cultural sensibilities. Kline suspends them in arresting, seductively beautiful surfaces, which he creates by meticulously manipulating the ancient technique of encaustic in new and astounding ways. The result is a compelling visual chorus in which the importance of form, structure, emotionality, and concept are given equal voice. Given its multidimensional engagement with the viewer, Kline’s work has been described as an “an anti-icon. involving the mind in the perception of a work of art that is gradually rather than instantaneously grasped.”

Kline paints with encaustic, or pigmented wax. First it is liquefied by heat and then applied and re-applied in strokes and daubs, allowing previous layers to remain visible. Kline builds up layers into organic colonies of brushstrokes that appear to move with their own rhythmic life yet are purposefully contained within grids and patterns. The artist’s controlled and systematic treatment of surfaces ultimately raises questions about human interaction with nature. As he explains, “Typically, we humans attempt to re-shape, control, or altogether ignore Nature. But she constantly reminds us she is pervasively and ever-powerfully there, both in force and subtlety.”

In addition to creating compelling encaustic paintings, Kline also applies his encaustic technique to found objects such as tree branches, boots and bowls; some are immortalized and cast into sculpture through the lost-wax casting process. Because Kline weaves countless historical and cultural references into his work – from the world of Greek mythology to the American symbol of the baseball bat, to Jackson Pollock – the exhibition provides unexpected glimpses into the history of art.

A significant theme in Kline’s work is his regard for traditional Western painting as “a grand deception,” dishonest in its desire to achieve a final, perfect layer concealing from view the artistic process. Similar to drawing and watercolor, in which every stroke is detectable, wax allows the artist to keep a visible record of the various stages of an artwork’s creation. Martin Kline: Romantic Nature unveils twenty-five years of Kline’s artistic practice that operates under the artist’s own, unique order – at times mysterious and never predictable – much like the process of life itself.

There will be an opening reception and a gallery talk with the artist on Saturday, March 24 from 1–3 p.m. A 160-page catalogue Martin Kline: Romantic Nature featuring an essay by Marshall N. Price, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Academy Museum in New York and a collection of past essays on Mr. Kline and his oeuvre will be available in the Museum shop. Please check the Museum website (nbmaa.org) for films, lectures symposium and additional exhibition programming.