Sailing up and down the Ohio River in his aptly named boat Watercolor, Ray Kleinhelter works in the open air, sketching and painting amidst the natural beauty of the Ohio River Valley. Citing 20th century artists Richard Diebenkorn and Frank Auerbach as influences, Kleinhelter’s paintings seem to be in direct lineage with theirs; creating works concerned with the materiality of paint, viewing the medium almost as a sculptural tool and vehicle for expression, rather than a simple means for literal representation.
Though one may at first view one of Kleinhelter’s riverscapes, such as “Big Maple,” as a loose interpretation of a natural scene, “loose,” may not aptly describe Kleinhelter’s compositional sensibility. Each color-shape has the sense that it has fought for space in the composition. Carving each other out through an intricately woven series of beginnings and endings, the canvas becomes a geometric battleground. These interpretations in oil, created using multiple sketches done in the open air as reference points, “recreate the sensation of light and color out on the water, bringing the life of the river indoors,” as Kleinhelter puts it.
In “River Drawings” and “Untitled Watercolors,” the viewer is afforded glimpses into the process of creating the larger compositions in oil. Through these smaller studies, done in ink and watercolor, the “bones” of the larger, more complex pieces can be seen; the planes of light striking trees along a riverbank, the formal interaction between the land and sky that creates a horizon, and how that interaction can be manipulated to make a horizon dissolve inside the composition, refuting traditional western notions of perspective.
While the influences of Diebenkorn and Auerbach can clearly be seen in Klienhelter’s work, the well-known paintings of Piet Mondrian also come to mind. Similarly reinterpreting the natural into abstracted geometric compositions, Mondrian simplified the cityscape into a series of rectilinear forms in primary colors. The clean lines and separation of color ideas exemplifies Mondrian’s experience inside urban spaces, and so too do the energized compositions of Kleinhelter exemplify the experience of a natural space vital to the culture of Louisville.
Now through January 2018 Kleinhelter is showing new work at Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty at 3803 Brownsboro Road in Louisville.
Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: Yale School of Art Summer Painting Scholar 1982; BFA, Kansas City Art Institute 1982; MFA, Indiana University, Bloomington 1986
Gallery Representation: Galerie Hertz (Louisville)
Written by Aaron Storm. Entire contents copyright © 2017 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.