Danielle Klebes brings her recent series of paintings, “Aimless Pilgrimage,” to Rutland’s 77 Gallery, and it’s an invigorating view.
In this series, Klebes focuses her attention on people or groups of people who are about to experience changes. Is a storm on the horizon? Will an accident happen? Did he hurt himself?
Klebes’ paintings have the stop-action effect of a snapshot. There’s a riot of color, an overload of activity, considerable fun and high-spirited collaborating. In these paintings, people are together doing specific things: dancing, climbing, hiking, poking a campfire. But even in the group pictures, look for the person who is alone. Find the one who is present, but not part of the action. Find the person with no face, just a smear of paint. Think about what that means.
Klebes’ characters — for that is how they seem — are painted in a representational way, but the sets for their dramas are often slightly abstracted or patterned. Though the paintings are not precisely narrative, there is the potential for narrative in every one of them. They remind me of writing prompts, always posing questions: What if? What next? What’s wrong?
For example, in “Etoniah,” two young men on a path are responding to a small wound on one of their arms. They are on a golden path in a magic forest. Klebes gives her players a woodsy scene dappled with light, grounded in black, with leaves of the very best green. But it’s the bark, the pink tree bark, that makes the magic. And the two men ignore the fabulous forest to focus on the scratch on one’s arm. It’s so human of them to do that. And looking, you might wonder if they will take the hike? Will they acknowledge the pink and purple tree bark? Will they recognize that they are surrounded by wonder?
A few of Klebes’ paintings are of a portrait nature: paintings of one person only. Again, she has set them in a way that prompts narrative thinking. In “Headroom” a young man is apple picking, in “Funboy” a young man approaches the edge of the picture plane swimming in a blue pond. He’s about to emerge from the picture entirely. A contemplative girl sits by a campfire in “Four Bucks a Bundle.” These people are alone, have left the groups and seem peaceful by themselves.
To me, the paintings in this series work on perception the way Impressionist paintings do. From a distance, the image presents itself as a whole. Move in on it, though, and you see how Klebes painted layers of contrast and color that land on your eye in a keenly bright stew. These backgrounds, in particular, are indecipherable on close view, but coagulate as you step back.
“Aimless Pilgrimage” is a good example of Klebes’ painterly tools. Seven figures are sitting, standing and walking upon a golden grassy plain. Above them a blue sky fans its diagonal rays, all of which point to a blunt tree in the mid ground. The painting is interesting in at least two ways: content and technique. First, the techniques Klebes uses span the gamut of straight representational depiction, to patterning on the golden plain, and big fancy blobs of paint for the tree leaves. Smooth painting, doodle painting and paint laid on the canvas like pudding.
The subject, though, is what makes this painting breathtaking. The seven people are gathered in a wide-open space; but they are not paying any attention to one another. What are they doing by this big tree, wandering randomly, ignoring everything? And look at those two figures back in the middle ground. Their figures are bisected by the horizon, and actually the figures are fading — the horizon line obscures them a little. Are they disappearing? Is this a metaphor for death?
So, I think the word is provocative. That’s the word to describe this exhibit. It will delight and warm you with its active, colorful abundance. But if you move in and look closer, you’re going to find that these works ask a lot of you as a viewer. Questions abound, and the answers are only in your head. Klebes gives you no answers: just parts of stories about people on the verge of something.
To visit the exhibit, you must enter through the front door of the 77 Grove building, and you’ll find the gallery to your left. Feel free to walk down the hall to the gallery space and make yourself comfortable with Klebes’ tribe of young humans, each doing their own thing. Take your holiday guests down to 77 Grove St. for a tour.