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Q& A: Barbara Klemz conveys her energy, joy in painting despite physical ills

Sunday, January 23, 2011
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Barbara Klemz remembers feeling that spark, the need to make art, when she was a young girl. Now, more than 50 years later, she has her first solo show as a painter, “Transcending the Time Line.”
Photographer: Barry Sloan
Barbara Klemz remembers feeling that spark, the need to make art, when she was a young girl. Now, more than 50 years later, she has her first solo show as a painter, “Transcending the Time Line.”

Barbara Klemz remembers feeling that spark, the need to make art, when she was a young girl. Now, more than 50 years later, she has her first solo show as a painter, “Transcending the Time Line.”

Seventeen of her colorful, emotion-charged oil paintings are hanging in the Viewpoint Gallery at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady. Joyful figures leap through a brilliant, imaginary cityscape that energizes a large canvas.

In the past four years, Klemz has been in many group shows, with the Upstate Artists Guild and the Colonie Art League, at Albany Center Gallery, and in the Fence Show and Empty Bowls Project at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy.

She was selected for this solo show because the Viewpoint Gallery is all about inspiring others, artists and non-artists, who happen to have disabilities.

Klemz, a 58-year-old Albany resident, has had Type 1 diabetes since she was 8 years old and has been dealing with Addison’s disease, an adrenal gland deficiency, since she was in her 20s. Before she got her Addison’s under control with medication, it wasn’t unusual for her to wind up in the hospital, passed out as a result of low blood sugar.

In recent years, she has developed diabetic arthritis and degenerative disc disease.

She retired in 2002, after 31 years in clerical and office technician jobs at Verizon. After years of taking art courses here and there, she decided to get serious about an art career and returned to college at the University at Albany.

Paintings by Barbara Klemz

WHERE: Viewpoint Gallery, Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, 1270 Belmont Ave., Schenectady

WHEN: Through Friday, March 18. Reception: 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday. Gallery open 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 386-3520

After six years of study, including an internship at Albany Center Gallery, she graduated in 2008 at age 56 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Sarah Martinez, director of Albany Center Gallery, knows Klemz’s work and selected her for Sunnyview after becoming Sunnyview’s new “Art for the View” consultant and instructor in its Studio Arts program last summer.

Martinez is also managing Sunnyview’s International Acquisition Exhibition for Artists with Disabilities, which, after a three-year absence, is scheduled for September at Proctors.

Klemz’s passion for art is what keeps her going.

Q: I see the word “Siena” in some of the titles of your paintings. Do you travel to Italy?

A: I haven’t been to Siena, Italy. They are from photographs. I combined information from several photos. Two are from the same aerial photographs. The moods are entirely different. And some things are out of my head.

Q: I also see images of legs and bridges. Where do these come from?

A: I use my own arms and legs. I had my friend photograph me. I wanted to create a spatial effect. Some things are out of my head, but I use photographs a little. I just grab some photographs if I want to see what a bridge looks like.

Q: Your paint is very loose, and in some places, it’s quite heavy. What is your technique?

A: I use a palette knife a lot. I like carving the texture. I really like drawing into the paints. It creates shadow and light. . . . You don’t want to model a painting. You want to stay loose and flow through it.

Q: How do you begin your paintings?

A: I start with a half or a third of a plan. I do sketches. And then things happen when I am painting. And I respond to it. I think it’s being open to the energy and the spirit. It takes you out of the world you’re in.

Q: How do you create the energy, the rhythm?

A: Just connecting everything in the painting, from form to form, through color, the changes in color, the colors you pick, the luminosity in each color, has a great effect. There’s a lot of emotional energy in my painting. I can release that, which is nice. I suppose it’s good therapy, it’s freedom, to release these emotions.

Q: Can you describe the particular emotions in your paintings?

A: Joy is a word I use with my paintings. That’s what I feel. My goal is to send that through to the viewer.

To share something with the world. I think that’s my biggest motive for doing this. It’s something you can share with the rest of humanity and it makes you feel less alone. . . . There’s certainly some anger in there, maybe some sadness as well. Things get mixed up. . . . But mostly, pretty joyful.

Q: Are you more comfortable painting in representational style or in abstract?

A: I do decide that partially ahead. Doing things that are representational is easier. That’s how you’re taught. That’s the foundation. But I try to combine, as a lot of artists do, combine the representational in the universe with things in your head, what I call “abstracted.”

Q: How did you get interested in art?

A: I’ve always been, since I’ve had a memory. I can remember when I was a little kid, before age 5. The most exciting memory is being allowed to go to an arts and crafts class before I was in kindergarten. I guess I used to sit outside and collect seeds and make something out of the seeds. Just from the trees in the fall.

Q: Did you paint when you were younger?

A: I worked full time and I raised a child, and there wasn’t always time. I took some classes in the early ’70s and the early ’80s while I was working.

Q: What was it like to be a college student when you were in your 50s?

A: I found it challenging . . . I would go into a test and just the fear of an art history test would drop my blood sugar. I’m on insulin, and when your blood sugar drops to a certain level, your brain can’t think. . . . It was a little more complicated because of that and because I was away from school for all that time. I certainly enjoyed it, and I got a lot of support from the other students. . . . It was mostly kids, some of whom I still stay in contact with.

Q: Are you interested in other art-making?

A: I do macramé designs, and I’ve been doing that for 30 or 40 years: jewelry, wall hangings and window hangings. . . . Macramé is sort of a bad word. Art galleries don’t want to mess with macramé. But the reality is that you can do anything with it. I’ve always got something going on. I sculpt little metal pieces and mix that with the beads and the macrame. I do pottery. I was doing pottery at the Troy Arts Center a few years back, but the pain in my hands got worse.

Q: In your bio, you state that “art is my reason for rising in the morning.” Why is that?

A: I totally feel that. I feel so lucky that I feel that way and have something like that. Everybody should have that. It motivates me to get past the drudgery of life. The first two hours of the morning I have to do stretching exercises . . . my diabetic fingers are stiff. I have to release all the pain and get on with it. So it drives you, coming up with ideas. My biggest thrill is coming up with ideas.

Q: Every day, you cope with multiple medical issues. Are these conditions expressed in your work?

A: I don’t think they are specifically expressed in my painting. My emotional psyche is in there. When your blood sugar is high, you’re irritable, when it’s low, you are sad. I’ve been doing this all my life, and I don’t really think about it that much.

Q: How do the diseases affect the actual physical process of being a painter?

A: Painting is something I find I can do even when my hands hurt. I’m not in excruciating pain. It’s just annoying pain.

 
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