By Kristin Wissler
Walking into the Bromfield Gallery, one is greeted by six paintings, each one different from the last. Indeed, the only things these works seem to have in common are the fact that they’re paintings, and the fact that they were all created by Linda Klein. Her exhibition, “Signs and Wonders,” has no central theme or idea surrounding the paintings. From “Space Kettle,” which depicts a teakettle soaring through the inky blackness of space, to “The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters,” a political piece centered around a wolf-like Donald Trump and his sheep-like supporters, each work is central only to itself, and could easily stand alone.
Klein intended this to be so. “I decided not to do a series,” she said, adding, “I don’t need to be in one frame of mind while I’m working.” Instead of creating a central theme and working from there, she took inspiration from everything she could. While the source of inspiration for “The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters” is easy to determine, she explained that “Space Kettle” was originally simply a painting of a tea kettle. “But then I turned it on its side and realized it looked like a spaceship,” she said, “And that reminded me of the song ‘Space Oddity.’”
The show’s most striking painting is “Family Drama,” which Klein said was inspired by the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, two brothers who fought from the moment they were conceived. Rebecca, their mother, favored Jacob, who eventually tricked Esau into giving up his birthright. The work’s main subject is Rebecca, a morose figure covered in heavy black robes, her head bowed in grief. Her sons are there as well, one next to her subduing an animal, the other represented by a green figure in the distance. The sky is overcast with churning clouds, mirroring Rebecca’s inner turmoil. A craggy vulture soars overhead, taking in the melancholy scene. Even before I understood the source of inspiration for the painting, I could sense it came from someplace ancient and biblical.
Another noteworthy thing about “Signs and Wonders” is shown in the folder, clipboards, pens and paper sitting on a table in the center of the exhibition. “Some of these painting evoke narratives,” reads a sign sitting on the table. “You are invited to contribute, anonymously if you wish, a story, a poem, or a drawing in response to what you think is happening in the painting.” I saw several patrons contribute, alternatively jotting down words and looking back at the piece they were writing about.
I asked Klein why she chose to make this written aspect part of the exhibition. “I can’t just say ‘this painting has this meaning,’” she said. “I think the viewers can and should make their own meaning.” Although the paintings have distinct sources of inspiration, Klein believes that those sources don’t have to be the final say in the meaning of the pieces. Another reason for adding a writing component to the exhibition comes from Klein’s background. While she is an artist currently, she has a background as an art therapist. “Art is a powerful tool for helping people express their emotions,” she said.
I wrote as well, creating a short story about “Domesticity,” a painting in which a giant, dead cockroach frightens a cleaning woman while a shadowy figure looks on. In a way, the exhibition came full circle, for the variety of the paintings made it easy to find a source of inspiration for writing. I have no doubt that Klein hoped, if not intended, for this to be so.
(“Linda Klein: Signs and Wonders” continues through July 31 at the Bromfield Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, Mass. For more information, call (617) 451-3605.)