Let’s focus on the clearly structured Diving Bird (Erika Giovanna Klien, 1939) once again:
|to fully appreciate the image click on it for larger version.|
Regardless whether we recognize the many stylized bird silhouettes, we see two dynamically intertwined overall shapes that divide the picture into four parts of negative space (below left). The lower shape is visually heavier because it is larger and the dark part is darker than its reflective part in the upper shape. One could also see it as a single twirled form in space (below middle) – my own interpretation, of course.
A few rolling extra lines that do not seem to be part of the bird silhouettes define the texture of the shapes (above right). These are following the intersection points of the silhouette lines.
This is where color comes into play: Klien treats the small ornamental shapes defined by overlapping lines independently from the objects and larger shapes these lines describe. Looking at them without the context of the whole picture, these triangles and Ds transport the ornamental quality of decorative patterns.
The only exception is the lowest eye-catching bird silhouette that is by and large colored according to its outline.
The gradients of the interlocked patterns converge towards white which heightens the contrast with the dark bird silhouette.
The outermost gray triangle pattern of the overall shapes is more or less kept in the same tonal distance from the background / negative space (with a partial white overlay in the upper shape).
But her work hasn’t always been this clear and distant. If we look at paintings from her late Vienna period, we discover a wilder – I think more emotional – approach of visualizing movement.
The color palette for one isn’t as muted as in the later bird studies but equally reduced to two basic colors. During the 1920s, Klien seemed to be especially fond of blue-gray vs. yellow-ochre-salmon colors as we can see in the paintings below.
|Klien: Vogelflug (bird flight), 1928|
But apart from that and the curved wing outlines (which cannot always be assigned to specific birds) there seem to be some curves (2) and straights (3) that are purely compositional.
Everytime I look at this picture I’m drawn to different overall shapes. In my mind, this painting not only depicts motion but creates it by forcing me to constantly re-imagine it.
|Klien: Begegnung (encounter), 1927|
Here are some pictures of the same period that are also structured by strong straight lines with decidedly more representational motifs:
|Klien: Häuser (houses), 1924|
|Klien: Häuser (houses), 1924|
|Klien: Kirche (church), 1930|
The gouache picture below on the other hand looks fairly representational on the surface but is conceived as an abstract composition. The technical clarity seems to be typical for Klien’s New York years.
|Klien: Silex abstraction, 1935|
Finally, let’s take a look at Klien’s most famous picture that serves as identification symbol of the DYNAMIK! Exhibition in Vienna:
|Klien: Lokomotive, 1926|
The non-representational shapes are emphasized by slight color (value) contrasts as seen in the lower right corner.
|(desaturated and slightly exaggerated contrast)|
What struck me most in this picture is how well we can see through its physical construction: because of the pointillist technique (that is also visible in many of the other examples) the colors are not only more vibrant but it also allows us to see the larger shapes that are painted underneath in different colors. To make the case even more interesting, there are areas where top and bottom layer are from the same basic colors while in many instances Klien applies blue over an underpainting of the yellow-ochre family and vice versa.
In addition to the particular paintings discussed in these two posts, Klien also created some more distinctly representational pictures including people and typography some of which can be found on the internet as well.