“Stray,” the painting by Danielle Klebes featured on the cover of our January/February 2021 issue, can now be seen at Springfield Museums as part of its “This Is Us: Regional Portraiture Now: Phase Two” exhibition.
While she lives, and works in North Adams, Massachusetts, since earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Arts from Lesley University College of Art and Design in 2017 and after serving as MASS MoCA Artist in Residence, Klebes has spent a great deal of her time out-of-town participating in artist residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Monson Arts in Vermont, various national programs in Ohio, Nebraska, Georgia and Michigan and international residencies in Quebec and Norway.
She’s had a series of solo exhibitions in Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Quebec and participated in group exhibitions in New York and Colorado.
Klebes, who mainly works in oils on canvas, is currently in residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the coast in Oregon, where she responded to questions from Artscope Magazine managing editor Brian Goslow about the challenge of being a figurative painter in the Covid-19 Era, continuing her residencies mainly in solitude, getting her work out to the world — and the identities of the subjects of our first cover of 2021.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR “STRAY” PAINTING — WHO IS THE PERSON AND CAT IN YOUR PAINTING?
That is a painting of my friend Dylan holding a stray cat out on a farm in Florida. I liked the contrast between Dylan’s tough exterior and a cute cat.
HOW DID THEY FEEL ABOUT BEING ON THE COVER OF OUR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021 ISSUE?
I’ve heard the cat is thrilled! And also, Dylan, I’m sure.
DID YOU SUBMIT OTHER PAINTINGS FOR THE SPRINGFIELD MUSEUMS SHOW?
I just submitted the one painting.
MANY OF YOUR PAINTINGS FEATURE PEOPLE WHERE THEIR FACES ARE A KEY PART OF YOUR PRESENTATION; HOW DIFFICULT HAS IT BEEN FINDING NEW SUBJECTS FOR YOUR WORK?
It’s been pretty easy! I end up painting the vast majority of my friends, many of them several times. I participate in a lot of artist residencies, and that’s been a great way to meet new people — many of which I paint.
HAVE YOU INTENTIONALLY KEPT FROM PAINTING PEOPLE WEARING MASKS?
That’s interesting. I guess I have intentionally kept away from it. I think that’s for a few main reasons. There have been several painters I like who have made a series of portraits of people in masks. I think doing anything so directly in response to Covid/mask-wearing would feel redundant at this point. Including masks also places figures really directly in our current time, and I want the scenes to feel less time specific. And lastly, it’s hard to show a figure’s expression with a mask on! That is one of my favorite parts of painting people — trying to capture the emotional state.
YOUR WEBSITE FEATURES TWO SERIES: “HOUSE FIRE HOUSE PARTY” AND “UTOPIA (2018-20)” — I LOVE THE 3-D LIKE EFFECT IN WHICH IT FEELS AS IF YOU TURNED YOUR SUBJECTS INTO CUTOUTS. HOW DO YOU APPROACH YOUR PAINTINGS AND ARE YOUR BACKGROUNDS NORMALLY FINISHED PRIOR TO ADDING THE CENTRAL CHARACTER (S)?
For the cutouts, I don’t have specific compositions. I like being able to rearrange them and change the backgrounds in response to wherever I set them up. For my paintings on canvas, I generally make a rough digital collage to work out the composition before I begin painting.
HOW HAVE YOU HANDLED THE PAST YEAR ARTISTICALLY AND WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE FOR YOU PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY?
The past year has been crazy! I had just finished up a residency in Norway and was still in Europe until the day before the travel ban. I had residencies and other opportunities lined up for the year that were all cancelled, so it was a really confusing time. Some other opportunities popped up later! Overall, though, 2020 was a real time of reflection.
YOU HAD FOUR RESIDENCIES IN 2020; HOW DID THE ONES AFTER EVERYONE PRETTY MUCH HAD TO GO INTO LOCKDOWN OR MINIMAL CAPACITY MODE DIFFER FROM THE TWO PRIOR TO MARCH?
The first two residencies had a lot of shared spaces, like woodshops. Both were out of the country — the first was in Quebec and the second was in Norway, so it was a lot of exploring the cities and being out in the world surrounded by people. The two residencies after that were much more solitary. The first was a stay-in-place residency, so I participated virtually from my home studio. The second was run at really limited capacity. Usually they have four artists or so to a house, and they just had one artist per house so that you didn’t have to directly interact with anyone.
YOU’VE GOTTEN YOUR WORK SHOWN REGIONALLY, NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT FINDING SHOWS THAT YOU FEEL YOUR PAINTINGS WOULD BE A GOOD FIT?
Most opportunities so far have arisen or been brought to my attention by the people I have met. I also use a lot of database websites like Submittable and transartists.org.
DO YOU DO TAKE COMMISSIONED PORTRAIT OR PAINTING WORK?
I do! I don’t do too much of it just because my regular studio practice takes priority, but I am always open to taking commissions. The largest one I did was a series of portraits of the past presidents for Central Penn College for them to hang on their campus.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY?
I have a few projects going on! I’m currently in residence at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the coast in Oregon, so a lot of what I’ve been working on is just responding to the amazing natural beauty of this space. I have several more wooden people I’m working on. I’ve been making taxidermy wooden cutouts. I also just finished up a painting of two of my good friends Molly and Nora in the bathtub that I’m pretty excited about.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE SCHEDULED FOR 2021, EITHER IN TERMS OF SCHEDULED EXHIBITIONS, RESIDENCIES OR SPECIAL PROJECTS?
I’m not sure how I will spend the year yet! I’ve had a few opportunities get delayed until 2022 because of Covid. I’ll be here in Oregon until late March and then will drive back to the east coast. I have been working with Homegrown Boston and some marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts to produce a zine and a series of pop-up exhibitions.
ANYTHING ELSE THAT WOULD HELP READERS IN ENJOYING AND LEARNING ABOUT YOUR WORK?
This has nothing to do with my work, but I just learned this fun fact: Painting (and sculpture, literature, music, etc.) were part of the Olympics from 1912 to 1948.
(See more of Danielle Klebes’ artwork at danielleklebes.com and see her “Stray” painting in the “This Is Us: Regional Portraiture Now: Phase Two” exhibition on view through May 2 in the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts at Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, Massachusetts; the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. — masks are mandatory and advanced tickets are suggested. For more information, call (413) 263-6800 or visit springfieldmuseums.org.)