May 052008

I am beginning to recognize the prevalence and significance of barns as an architectural phenomenon in rural America. This must be the third time I am reviewing paintings with such or similar structure being the main theme; Tracy Helgeson‘s work should be one reference, and Andrea Kowch‘s another. Casey Klahn’s barns are much more like the former’s — in fact, his versions put her artwork in a new light — on the one hand — and benefit from it on the other — a mutual enrichment. (Andrea’s barns are less relevant only because of their clear realistic affiliation.) Either way, the structures appear to manifest a strong visual appeal, and this review would present a good opportunity to examine the reasons behind it, through a case study of Casey Klahn’s pastels.

It should be mentioned that the artist departs from his principally abstract style towards a more figurative and tame variation. That, I think, occurs at least partially because the barns are in a way inherently abstract structures. Sticking with pure abstraction would overload the paintings; the artist approaches the problem creatively, getting rid of unnecessary “abstract fat.” As a result, although some of the abstract gist becomes lost in the process, we get a more round and veritable picture. To compensate, the artist introduces a few impressionistic touches, such as exuberant light or autumnal sky, all recognizable stylistic elements. But although these features contribute to the mellowing effect, it may still seem that the images are on the brink of a stylistic “breakdown” towards the abstract.


Triangles, rectangles and squares, all parts of the barns, coalesce into three dimensional boxes which may appear unstable and unsteady in their environment. Indeed, the plains around them tune in with my childhood vision of L. Frank Baum‘s Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It’s as if any of these barns may be lifted by a tornado any minute and land at an unknown location (on someone’s head). This fictional/narrational instability leads to a clear stylistic ramification: it echoes the idea of movement and floating in a two dimensional abstract space, all as it was conceived by Malevich and Kandinsky. And the comparison of the literary with the visual is not at all incompatible: both sources describe open spaces as a major element.

Finally, these barns are tall, formidable buildings with a peculiar roof. The lower part consists of a simple box-like foundation, but the loft is unusually stylized — this composite must present an irresistible appeal for the visual artist. The practical purpose cannot conceal the exotic and somewhat grotesque form. Such a beast rising in a middle of a vast plain would inevitably become a ravishing eye candy. Casey Klahn’s artwork gives us a true sweet tooth’s taste test.

  2 Responses to “Casey Klahn: Barns and The Abstract Wizard of Washington”

  1. Thanks, Elisjah, for another great review. My response is up at The Colorist.

  2. Elijah,sorry for the mis-spell.

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