Catalogue essay for 1998 solo exhibition at The Brenda Taylor Gallery

I am partisan, I have admired Rick Klauber’s work for a quarter of a century – since just after his college apprenticeship to Helen Frankenthaler and his subsequent, much longer internship with Robert Motherwell. As one of the most articulate spokesmen for The School of New York – alas, there were no spokeswomen then – Motherwell, with a large body of work behind him and at the time painting his Open Series, was a profound and nourishing inspiration. He spoke eloquently to Klauber not only of European modernists – Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, the Surrealists, some of whom he knew personally – and not only of American gestural abstractionists, including himself, Pollock, de Kooning, and (more reluctantly) Kline, but of his contemplative colleagues, Rothko, Reinhardt, and (again, more reluctantly) Newman.

“Colleagues,” a favorite word of Motherwell’s, enchanted Klauber. To be a colleague of leading, internationally renowned artists was a heady fantasy for a painter in his early twenties – more than a fantasy for someone who already knew Frankenthaler and Motherwell and was hearing firsthand about their work and the cultural context from which it came. While many artists of Klauber’s generation rebelled against “Ab-Ex aesthetics” through Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, and so forth, Klauber was one of those who saw its potentially ongoing viability.

In 1975 Klauber had a precocious and prestigious exhibition at Artists Space. There, gestural Action Painting was somewhat more evident than the quieter aspects of Abstract Expressionism, without in either case being influenced by particular artists as much as by a school, a sensibility. The slightly greater emphasis on the linear continued though his several exhibitions of paintings and drawings in the late seventies and early eighties at the Long Point Gallery (probably the best in Provincetown). Here, besides Motherwell, Fritz Bultman and Judith Rothschild showed with him and acquired his work. Bultman, quick to appreciate both Klauber’s originality and aesthetic roots, wrote in a note, “You are the continuation.”

In simplified summary, gradually through the eighties and into the early nineties, Klauber relied more and more on color rather than line to express his feelings. This work approached hard-edge abstraction but allowed for more visible brushwork and more “atmosphere” than appears in the paintings of Reinhardt and Newman. However, in Klauber’s work of the mid-nineties to the present, he had successfully consolidated his two tendencies. Paintings like Rainmaker and Lacemaker echo his interest in the rich potential of black-and white and lead logically to the daring palettes of Tiger Eye, Two Dances, Muddy Water and Six foot High, among other works. Such paintings have a stillness quite comparable with Pollock’s’ Lavender Mist, Guston’s Attar, and classic Rothkos. As in the works of these artists, Klauber has achieved an exquisite balance between the linear, sometimes gridlike structure of his earlier work, now almost hidden, and a comparatively thinly painted rain- or snow-soaked image in which the paint still expresses itself, sometimes without the intervention of a brush, sometimes by means of saturation, always in recognition of its materiality. Movement in this work pulses in and out from the canvas rather than two-dimensionally across its surface, and, more than ever this pulsation exudes light and energy.

B.H. Friedman
catalogue essay for 1998 solo exhibition at The Brenda Taylor Gallery