Winter Gardens
Amy and Misha Kligman @ Wooltex Gallery

Every surface chips, cracks, or peels, bark is scattered on the ground and the red decay
of autumn bleeds slowly through the dusty greens of late summer. We ourselves are
painted in a wash of molecules dissolving on a loosely woven fabric of DNA, while the
ghosts of old selves chatter in the background of our brief, ever-changing lives.
Amy and Misha Kligman’s current show at Wooltex Gallery is called Pentimenti, which is an
art historical term  referring to the way that earlier drafts of paintings, figures and
compositional elements that the artist painted over, sometimes become visible again.
Upper layers can develop a strange transparency due to age and other factors, and the
result is a slightly uncanny vision of process and roads not taken. The two Kligmans have
very different takes on this metaphor, but both deal with the fickleness of reality and the
transience of surfaces.

Among the pleasures of Pentimenti is the artistic growth both painters demonstrate. Amy
Kligman, who formerly painted under the name of Amathin, has had a day job as an
illustrator for several greeting card companies over the years, both in Cleveland and in
Kansas City where the couple now lives. She’s long used that experience to good effect,
creating a layered, wall-paper-like world where shreds and snippets of popular children’s
design culture – duckies, bunnies, wide-eyed kids with big blond heads – survive only in a
much-damaged state. Maybe it’s childhood itself that is half-obscured in this way by the
corrosive rains of time and experience, or it could be that Amathin’s subject is rather the
residue of lies told about children, and how that distorts our vision of ourselves. A sense
of lost innocence, regret, and a hint that, despite everything, there are still secret gardens
nourishing the spirit, are the hallmarks of her earlier work.

These remain among her subjects, but Amy Kligman’s paintings at Wooltex are
emotionally darker in tone and more certain in their vision. Many of them explore
interpersonal moods and states, the mysteries of unspoken communication, using
elaborately unfurling speech balloons full of patterns or flowers and colors -- breath and
unspoken, inside words that float between, say, two children.

“A Secret” (2007), for instance, shows a boy and a girl in vaguely Victorian garb. He wears
blue shorts and lace-up leather boots, she is dressed in a plain yellow smock with white
trim. Behind them a small wood stands on five pale tree trunks like a plump five-legged
animal while in the gray and white tangle of detail up in the belly of the branches a very
big yellow bird’s head sings a long tear drop embroidered with blue leaves. The girl grasps
the boy by his arm and whispers a short, pale message, flowing in a shallow double curve
from her mouth to his ear. It may be poison that she pours in his ear, or it just might be a
word that will change his life. The ambiguity is even more pronounced in “Little Scream,”
which shows a group of small boys in rabbit costumes loitering near a slightly older girl in a
stiff tulle skirt and tiny black Mary-Janes. From her mouth issues a decorative yellow
plume of flowers, as if collaged on the air. The boys are perhaps slightly demonic with
their peculiar glasses and whiskers, the girl may show some signs of anxiety. But it’s
mainly the title that casts doubt on this idyllic scene. All signs of inner chaos are so well
hidden in this enchanted land that even a scream appears as a swathe of wall paper.

Misha Kligman graduated from Cleveland State University in 2001 and is currently
pursuing a graduate degree in the arts at the University of Kansas. He has been known
over the past several years for smaller scale highly detailed realist self portraits, among
other subjects. Some of these have actually been painted on top of photographs, but the
current examples are all paint. The exceptional quality of these works derives less from
their detail and accuracy than from the intensity they project The self-hood that Kligman
depicts is one that deliberately evades head-on exposure and the power of the portraits is
based on a tension rising between the frankness of the artist’s self-scrutiny, and what at
first seems like a willful desire to hide from the viewer. One painting shows him in profile,
while in another his eyes are closed, seated next to a man in shadow. Here Kligman’s face
is upturned and his eyes are shut against strong sunlight, while his companion, who gazes
at him, is wrapped in shadow; on close examination we realize this second man is also
Kligman.. In a third work the artist looks straight at the viewer, but his eyes seem
unfocussed or very tired. He is hunkered sideways in a small barrel-backed chair, wearing
a red and white plaid cowboy shirt. The room, like his eyes, is faded and empty, with a
scuffed and scumbled floor and a line on the right where two bare walls form an angle. In
spirit it’s a little like one of Giacometti’s famous self portrait drawings, where the true
subject is the space that the figure occupies, and the strangeness of one’s own physical
insertion into the world, into sensation and thought and experience. That in the end is the
situation that all of Kligman’s paintings attempt to re-enact as he seeks not to hide, but to
surprise himself from an accidental perspective, revealing unsuspected intersections of
mind and feeling, place and soul.

In keeping with this search Kligman’s “Lagoon” is a surrealist landscape, which like many
landscape paintings is also a metaphoric vision of the interior of the body as it spreads
darkly before the introspective self. A glass-like curlicue-shaped hybrid of dust devil and
alchemical filtration device churns towards us across uneven, desolate sands, casting its
twisted shadow near a circular depression, like a mark on the surface of the moon. A low
line of barren mountains is smudged across the horizon. Slanting in on the right side of
this gesso and graphite on paper work, a drive-in movie screen or a billboard displays a
nude man and woman. Their magnified and elongated bodies stretch over and under
each other like earth and sky. Like everything here by both Kligmans, the vision is of a
present moment stretched so tightly over deception or doubt that reality begins to wear

[Free Times 10/3/07]
Amy Kligman
Misha Kligman, Self Portrait