Friday, February 27, 2009

Ted Kliman: An Artist Who Explored Death and Mourning

Artist Ted Kliman, died on Feb. 16.  He came to painting later in life, and was well known for his work exploring death, mourning and the iconography of Judaism and Christianity.
Here is an excerpt from the Web site of the New Deal Cafe, which displayed his work

Kliman has often been asked, "What is your inspiration?" He replies, "I didn't set out to make these paintings, but as happens so often in art, things occur accidentally." As he began this series, Kliman said, "I realized that I was embarking on a difficult artistic path: the fusion of realism and conceptualism." Although the images were conceived in a sense of suffering, of affliction, provoked by the inconceivable horror of the Holocaust, Kliman says, "...grief and suffering are universal. I feel these paintings are symbolic and identifiable for people of all religions and cultures." Ori Soltes, professor of Art and Religion at Georgetown University has said that these paintings, "convey the emotional content of memory...they take on the contours of figures...which are eerily absent...these are texts without words, caught between the realms of the natural and the preternatural."

Study for Lamentation I
Here are some highlights from his obituary in the Washington Post:

Mr. Kliman was an educational and industrial filmmaker for 20 years before picking up a paintbrush at 45. Accepted into the Maryland Institute College of Art, he received a master of fine arts degree in 1979, immersed himself in art history and began exploring questions of life's meaning through his work.
"Some people search for the infinite," Mr. Kliman told The Washington Post in 2001. "They look to God by fasting and prayer. I search with my painting. Can a painting be a prayer?"
When he read "The Metaphysics of Cloth," an essay by Polish-born painter Ewa Kuryluk that explores Leonardo da Vinci's drapery studies, he found inspiration for what became black and white depictions of faceless, bodiless cloth that suggest human figures.
Redemption III

A professor challenged him to experiment with surrealistic techniques using the same elements. After reading Kuryluk's essay, he took his Jewish prayer shawl, draped it over a flexible mannequin and created a drawing called "Leonardo's Tallit."  Soon he was creating large paintings of cloth, which, by folding into soft, undulant swaths, he transformed into something almost tactile, lifelike.  The empty shawls had Hebrew and Yiddish lettering on them, and some referred to the Holocaust with names such as "Shoah Triptych" and "The Dance of Death." Later, he incorporated Christian icons into the shawls. He called them "The Lamentation Series."

Theodore Elwood Kliman was born in Philadelphia. He served in the Army during the Korean War and played minor league baseball before receiving a bachelor's degree in English from Penn State University in 1954.  Before launching his career as an artist, he spent nearly two decades making educational films at Virginia Tech and other universities and industrial films for a company in Baltimore.

He had artistic inclinations from an early age. He told his son Todd Kliman that he had drawn comic books as a youngster and was crushed when his mother threw away what she called his "scribbling pictures." He painted for a couple of years on the side before he enrolled at the Maryland Institute.  "He was creatively restless," his son said. "He longed to make something durable, something lasting, longed to leave behind the collaborative worlds of film and theater and stretch himself as an artist."

Dance of Death III

Although he never made much money as a painter, Ted Kliman experienced a profound sense of satisfaction.  Todd Kliman recalled two letters his father received years ago within a few weeks of each other -- one from a priest, the other from a prisoner. Both were expressions of gratitude for his work.

"He read and reread those letters for weeks," Todd Kliman recalled. "They moved him deeply. What was a few thousand dollars, he said, when you could receive a letter like this from a stranger -- two strangers, actually, and at opposite ends of life -- that was testament to the fact that your vision -- your deepest, most personal expression -- shook them to the core?"

for the full obituary by Joe Holley, visit 

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