May 012008

I love abstract art — I don’t think I can say that outright about any other style or movement, not without some reservation. Show me works by Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko; their paintings move me and make me feel the music of color, line, geometrical form and composition, all in a kind of primordial purity which these artists tried to bare. This review, however, is not about them: it’s about Casey Klahn, a contemporary American abstract painter working almost exclusively with pastels and paper. You can find many of his works on his website, follow his blog “The Colorist” for updates, recent artwork and interviews and read his blog on the pastel medium for more technical information and news.


To make a certain point, I would like to return for just a moment to the magnificent four. There are many things I could say (and probably will some time in the near future) about each of these modern classic painters, but there is one thing common to all in the way they influence me: their artwork can fill me with jubilant, incomprehensible laughter. I nevertheless try to trace the origin of this response — I guess that some colors are inherently funny — pink for example — and they knew how to isolate that quality and bring it out as to force the audience to respond. But what I noticed about Casey Klahn’s artwork is that it appears as though his colors and compositions aim to make the observer cry! In a way, that makes him both a follower and a rebel.


Several features conspire to produce said effect. First there is the unstable quivering quality of pastel; some of the pieces appear as if seen from behind a car’s front window when it’s raining. Objects (trees) look heavily smudged, lines break down and some areas of color appear to be still in the process of modulation. Second is the use of pure blue reminiscent of the sea; the patches of blue indeed bring to mind large bodies of water. And third is the thick, streaming down lines of the trees, resembling water pipes. All of these characteristics deal with water and raindrops in one way or another. Although, the endeavor to find a logical or somehow sensible explanation to the mentioned teary reaction may still appear a futile exercise.


In order to alleviate some of the intensity, the artist creates a break — a vista — in the fence-like arrangement of the trees, sometimes changing the color within that passage, as if carving out a cave — a safe haven. The break also constitutes an additional geometrical figure: another rectangle or triangle. In a way, it plays the role of both a tentative focal “point” and a compositional epilogue; a beginning and an end at the same time, at different stages of viewing. Casey Klahn mentions in his artist statement that his “desire is to allow the feelings the viewer has for these color compositions to be foremost, and readily available.” I think he achieved both.

  5 Responses to “Casey Klahn: How to Make Your Audience Weep”

  1. My response to this thought-provoking crit. are up at The Colorist.blogspot.

    The way you’ve picked out my water themes is spooky, Elish. I grew up under a rain cloud, you may not know. And right on the ocean beaches, too.

    And, because of my families’ involvement in the logging industry (Washington State), I have indelible images of great conifers tacked on my brain.

    You may be interested to see my response post because I tie in some Northwest School (Abstract Expressionist movement in Washington State, USA that slightly pre-dates the New York school) influences. I am greatly flattered (and humbled) to be described by comparison to the abstract masters. Their influence does loom large for contemporary abstract painters, eh?


  2. A really interesting analysis :>) I enjoyed visiting your site

  3. @Casey: Absolutely, and sometimes it may seem just too overwhelming. On the other hand, what are the alternatives? I guess we are all privileged to have seen their art when it is already a part of an established canon.

    I think comparisons beg to be made with your artwork. Rothko — the dominating rectangles — is evident, but then you add these trees, these perpendicular lines, which also echo Kandinsky. In my opinion you have an interesting and original mix.

    @Vivien: Thank you! I hope you will continue to visit here!

  4. How does it make a person weep?

  5. I don’t know. Maybe I went overboard here. I love abstract painting.

    Look at the smudges on the color areas. It may seem like you’re looking through a window while it’s raining. It literally alludes to running water — but also to an emotional state when you’re ready cry (or shed a single manly tear if you like:)). The paintings have an autumnal, sad feel to them.

    Hope I’ve answered your question. :)

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