William Klein, an American who has spent most of his life in Paris, can be compared to the Lost Generation expatriate artists and writers such as Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Man Ray who flocked to the city in search of creative fulfilment and the bohemian lifestyle infused throughout its bars, cafes, and studios. He found a second home in the city, and it was here where he embarked on his artistic journey as a painter, film-maker, and photographer. Klein’s early paintings hint at an influence of the abstracted figural and still life works of Picasso, and by the graphics and designs of Bauhaus and Mondrian that later led to his mural paintings; while his fashion photography encapsulates the raw energy exuded by the streets of Paris.
Tucked away on a picturesque side street in Kensington, HackelBury Fine Art provides space for one to quietly absorb Klein’s bold abstractions. William Klein: Paintings Etc, features works from Klein’s oeuvre that have hardly been shown to the public since the 1950s. Presented against the accented bright red and yellow walls of the gallery, Klein’s paintings, though produced nearly half a century ago, now emit a new energy. The black, white, and red mural has recently been created from a maquette into an alluring, eye-catching linear and geometric display. On the opposite wall, Klein’s text-based paintings bear aesthetic weight. A selection of Klein’s abstract composition works and a still life are exhibited amongst the larger-scale pieces. Though the smaller works lend insight into Klein’s explorations as a painter, the mural and paintings with text provide more of a direct correlation with Klein’s interests in architecture and design. It was actually through photographing interior murals Klein had made on movable panels that he had the epiphany to become a photographer. Capturing the turn of the panels on a long exposure produced abstract shapes and a beautiful blur. The resulting works are on view as part of the exhibition.
The gallery contains a clever pull-out wall, which features two more of Klein’s black and white abstractions, which are photographic renditions of experimentations of light movements. These works, which are similar Man Ray’s “rayographs”, show Klein’s artistic playfulness that can be identified throughout his works. This type of play on light was incorporated into Klein’s fashion photography, as seen in the stunning work, “Dorothy blowing smoke light rings”.
A self-taught artist until he received an ex-serviceman’s grant to study art at the Sorbonne, Klein was mostly influenced by spending time in the studio of Fernand Leger, where he was advised to forget trying to get his work in galleries and to go out into the world. Klein’s paintings are aptly presented within a gallery context, and because Leger encouraged Klein to embrace city culture and created black and white vignettes of fashionable city streets that can be viewed in this exhibition outside the pages of Vogue today.
Klein’s iconoclastic style, with his photographs with blur, movement and grainy high contrast and a disregard of traditional composition, have caught the essence of modern urban life. Combining painting and photography, Klein has also painted over his filmstrips with playful brushstrokes. Such works are on display with a selection of Klein’s books, loaded with his photographs and film stills from the 1960s. Additionally a filmmaker, Klein’s inspiration has been drawn from French new wave and the films of Chris Marker, and this influence resonates throughout his body of works. It’s been said that Klein’s works are a reflection of his life: fun, with a confrontational twist. This exhibition presents an overview of this prolific photographer’s works in a way which doesn’t so much confront as it reveals, and highlights his skill in creating art across mediums.
William Klein, Paintings Etc, running until 20 December, HackelBury Fine Art, 4 Launceston Place Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, W8 5RL
1. Fashion With Light Drawings – Dorothy Blowing Light Smoke Rings © William Klein, Courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London.
2. Barn on Walcheren Island, 1952 © William Klein, Courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London.
3. William Klein, Painting, mural project no 1, 1952-54 © William Klein, Courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London.
4. William Klein Vertical Diamonds, 1953 © William Klein, Courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London.