Artist Christina Klein balanced carefully on the platform of a scissor lift in Topeka, Kansas. Even at a shaky height, she felt an overwhelming sense of community participating in the Brown vs. Board mural that would be proudly displayed in the state capitol. Families and community members came together to paint, as schoolchildren proudly point out the sections that they completed to friends.
“It’s really been eye opening to see what the power of art can do,” says Klein. “I think that it really helps inspire the next generation and gives them an extra sense of belonging. It’s important to share with each other.”
A native of Kansas, Klein says she’s always felt compelled to make art, and remarked on how the mural experience truly demonstrated the importance of leading by example. Not typically a large-scale painter, the message at the core of her own work and 3D sculptures emphasize the importance of repurposing abandoned materials.
She finds “beauty in decay” and is inspired by the landscape of forgotten farms in her home state. These ideas come forward in her solo show, Back Again, which can be seen at the Venvi Art Gallery through July 14.
Surrounded by the resources on her family’s own farm, Klein was never at a loss for ideas or short on supplies to play with as a child. She remarks that both her parents contributed to her artistry, especially her father who taught her an appreciation for wood. In fact, the majority of her woodworking is still accomplished in her family’s dairy barn. However, it was the annual Federal Duck Stamp Contest that transformed her love of doodling into a serious study of painting.
“I always really liked painting and was lucky that my parents were so supportive because they didn’t mind me getting paint on the green carpet,” laughs Klein. “I got very competitive with the contest and I think that was the main motivator for me to sit down, do something detailed and finish it.
She went on to earn her BFA in painting and sculpting from Kansas State University and spent a year abroad at Justus Liebig University Giessen, Erasmus. Working with professors in Germany gave her a new appreciation for abstract thinking. Many assignments simply involved a prompt and a mystery box of materials that she would then have to shape into a sculpture.
The architecture of German cathedrals especially inspired Klein who drew parallels between them and some of the abandoned farms that dot the Kansas landscape. These connections sparked her interest in taking these barns into the studio somehow, and eventually evolved into her mixed media process.
“I started printing out pictures and collaging them but everything still felt kind of flat to me in the paint,” describes Klein. “I thought if I could build these models out of scraps of wood I could recreate them in an abstract sense. For me it’s the best of both worlds because the sculpture serves as art itself and it can really interact with the painting, too.”
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