Sara Klar is an energetic and innovative artist who lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. In a path more common for artists these days, Klar began her art career in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. Klar grew up in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Brooklyn and her established career shows a great wealth of exciting and swashbuckling emotional depth.
Klar’s paintings sometimes have conflict regarding her Orthodox Jewish upbringing. Orthodox means traditional, and so Orthodox Jews are Jews who keep strict adherence to traditions that other divisions of the religion such as Reform and Reconstructionist have let go of. Orthodox Judaism’s rituals perpetuate segregation of the sexes, so that women are relegated to housewife status, in ways similar to Evangelical, Mormon, or Amish communities do. These practices are not illegal, however, they are a sensitive subject. In Klar’s 2017 “Fusillade,” the artist used acrylic paint, but to express the misogynist and sexist traditions of Judaism, the artist used ripped pages of the Talmud, which is the Jewish book of prayer that comments on the Old Testament. Klar is a bit of an enigma in this rebellion against religious laws, and the emotional violence of the painting isn’t so obvious as to be blood-and-guts, or even an easier target such as gloom and dark colors.
Klar’s use of color as commentary on emotional depth is beguiling. In, “Spectrum, white colored black (Talmud Dreds and Tefillin Bindings),” Klar uses pink and gray as her background, and these colors force the action of the painting to thrust the greens and whites outward, like a comic book superhero’s gigantic fist. Klar’s paintings push the viewer’s eye around like a pinball machine, and even though her choice of colors are never antagonistic to the viewer, there doesn’t seem to be much rest for the eye. Each inch is manipulated by craft as if to shout, “Possibilities! Possibilities! Possibilities!” Klar’s use of craftsmanship and technique is akin to a master translator toggling between languages, or perhaps a professional poet searching for the right turn of phrase. At any given inch of these gigantic paintings, Klar is given to cut the paints with a razor blade, or use the drip stylings in order to create eddies and whirlpools of color, or fold the acrylic plastic back and let it ooze against the other colors. Klar is restless and hyper-kinetic, but above all, the artist is interesting.
Klar’s works could easily fall prey to earnest ambition – as if there could be such a thing as dogmatic rebellion! and yet somehow don’t. In her series of photographs as homage to her current neighborhood, “Bed Stuy Sky 1117,” Klar created a plastic semi-circle disk using acrylic paint and the bottom of a paint can. Klar followed her passions and photographed the semi-circle as if it were a live creature telling her what to do, as if it were a live creature in the wild. By all perspectives this series of photographs is a bizarre personification of a made up, inanimate, abstract object. In fact, if there’s a connection between this series and other works by Klar, it’s that the artist often takes an abstraction, and then abstracts that abstraction. This series becomes a sort of stop-motion animation, which has appeared in popular culture such as the show Gumby or Tim Burton’s films. Again, these cartoons used stop motion animation in order to communicate a humorous disposition, whereas Klar’s acrylic animal is high art. The viewer’s mind doesn’t want to dismiss Klar for any reason, because the viewer is interested to see where the artist will go.
Postmodern art, and specifically Abstract Expressionism has a long line of art here, and Klar is among friends. Abstract Expressionism flourished basically after World War II, and the movement was known for using minimalist affects. Klar’s paintings sometimes have the looks of Robert Rauschenberg’s forays into Abstract Expressionism, where that artist used a strange sort of literalism – where a sort of painting-sculpture of a bed is literally rendered, for example – in order to communicate more sublime themes. So, Rauschenberg’s argument was between said and unsaid, spoken and unspoken. Rauschenberg and Klar both create rules in their Abstract Expressionist paintings and then fight against those rules within the same painting. And Klar’s works often have these dialectic conflicts, making the paintings hard to pin down.
Where Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin, and Cy Twombly are among the best-known Abstract Expressionists, there does seem to be a correlation between Abstract Expressionism and Judaism. The Met Breuer recently exhibited Leon Golub, who used one of the techniques that Sara Klar uses, which is the application and removal of paint in order to create a dissonant, scored material of skeletal colors. Klar’s works have alliance with Mark Rothko and Arshille Gorky, who have color paintings that are the closest one can come to raw emotion. A third example is Philip Guston, who Klar specifically mentions using the color pink. Guston used pink as a way to talk about the otherworldly experience of being conscious, and both Klar and Guston use pink as a low-level anxiety, like a slow rush of water from a leaky pipe that isn’t scary, so much as a disconcerting set of problems. The connection between Judaism and Abstract Expressionism is Judaism is an overarching ideology that offers the rewards of control and order to its adherents, whereas Abstract Expressionism is a radically individualist art movement that seeks to undermine any ideology, even itself if need be.
These paintings have the liberating sense of exploration against ideology because they go beyond ideology. Klar’s works are anti-totalitarian because they express joy and plaintive argumentation. Klar’s best works give the viewer a sensation of uplift and encouragement to break down barriers – whatever they may be. Klar’s use of color is madcap and frantic, and one gets the sense that she would never run out of ideas, that the world would run out of paint before she would run out of ideas. Because the paintings are dialectical, arguing with themselves about which rule is dominant, there’s a breathing that this artist does, and Klar is very much inspired in the best sense. What’s more, the artist makes inspiration look easy and fun, that inspiration is not only something she wants for herself.