William Zimmer

As I write this I’m listening to jazz vocals on the radio. This has to do with the art of Rick Klauber because constant elements in his work are declarative lines and liquid shapes like jazz riffs. Klauber is sodden with jazz and the period in the visual art it connotes – Abstract Expressionism. His hallmarks are impulse spontaneity, free association and a setting down of emotions. But there is balance: he incorporates the discipline and restraint associated with Minimalism. He is a painter with his radar on. He draws his content and its sensations from the world around him. He is the center of his art—as opposed to any acquired mode of working—and this accounts for his freshness.

His paintings have an uneasy beauty. Beneath each surface is an undercurrent of restlessness. Each successive member of a series is an exploration of possibilities. Klauber’s is an original way of working. When he works in series he sets himself limitations. He will reduce the color, working, say, in only black and white or red and white. This is sacrifice because he is a superb colorist, but the reduction allows him to concentrate on line, shape and surface effect. Original shapes seem eager to assert themselves.

When this restlessness is at its height, unique masterworks, seemingly unrelated t anything else in his output, manifest themselves out of inner need. Two of these works are burned in my mind and provide clues to the essential Klauber. One is from a long time ago, the other is very recent. I call the painting from 1982 “The Tent Painting” for it lacks an official title. Others have called “Piano” or “Shirt”. Klauber wants the viewer to make all the references. Above all, this is a brave painting. A raggedy central shape in a green field conjures up a black and white striped tent with a long projecting awning. The stripes are Minimalist device liberated from a theoretical harness and put into a proto-narrative. For me the tent recalls the accoutrements of knights about to joust. This reading highlights Klauber’s scrappy side, a major motivation.

Two weeks ago I saw the just finished “Canary” (named by Klauber’s wife, Ryn Maartens who furnishes his best titles). It comes in the middle of an austere series of work featuring all over surfaces of black and white drops. There was no doubt an urge to signal color. The acid yellow recalls taxis in the city while the structured part of the painting is a grid referring to urban canyons. A generous area of black becomes a night sky and a white shape aspiring to crescent form hangs in it. It is poignant like a Miro shape is both the moon and the little bird of the title. The gentle irony operating is that the shape is white. The central attribute, yellow, has been displaced to the surroundings. Klauber continually surprises.

He surprises with his facility with watercolor. Watercolor is difficult to handle and Klauber works masterfully without a trace of muddiness. The opposite is true: shard-like forms that distinguish the watercolors on exhibit are like richly-veined cross-sections of unearthly stones that sear the white paper. This is an extensive series and each member is itself a gem.

Klauber has all the tools of 20th Century painting and has the skill to wield them whenever and however he wishes. But always finally he chooses to go to the inner place- the ultimate subject is the making of the work itself.

William Zimmer
5/1/95, on the occasion of a private presentation. Zimmer wrote about art for the New York Times.