Carrie Klukas | Not A Quick Read

by Wendy Stefansson

Carrie Klukas

Grande Prairie artist Carrie Klukas admits to being surprised at what people see in her abstract paintings. “Sometimes,” she says, “my art takes them places it’s never taken me.”

Some viewers have seen whole universes in Klukas’ paintings; nebulae of colour and light amidst the primal darkness, the birth- places of stars. Oth- ers have seen in them the veining of marble; the line drawings of the ever-birthing earth. Creation narratives abound, not the least of which is the story each painting tells of its own creation. But also and equally present are stories of destruction; the consuming energy of fire, of storms or of waves. Klukas’ paintings are vessels for both beginnings and endings; each one a reliquary – a beautiful container into which a person can place what is sacred to him or her. A story. A memory. A hope or a loss. A longing or a fear.

“Erotic” was the word used by well-known Demmit, Alberta artist Peter von Tiesenhausen to describe a large diptych Klukas painted at the Prairie North Creative Residency in 2007. With its arcing curves, softly modelled forms and warm, luminous colours, “erotic” is certainly an interpreta- tion that is there to be made, though Klukas contends it wasn’t her intention when creating the work.

At the other end of the spectrum, the artist was recently asked to remove a painting she had created specifically for the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre. The painting, originally titled “And Then There was Light”, is now (with characteristically dark humour) referred to by Klukas as The Rejected One. The work emanates a deep, enveloping darkness but for a pair of light-coloured forms at the top. It feels ominous. Something is about to happen. In front of this painting, you stand motionless. You wait. You hold your breath.

"And Then There Was Light" by Carrie Klukas

According to Beverly Hildebrandt, Nurse Manager at the Centre, several patients asked to have the painting taken down within days of its arrival, saying it “reminded them of their cancer cells.” Hildebrandt had no reasonable choice but to comply. Klukas removed the painting.

Dr. Brenda Millar, who works at the same hospital, describes what happened this way: “Carrie’s paintings have this won- derful movement and flow to them, and an incredible sense of light. They’re so reflective – they have a shininess and a sheen to them – and that reflectiveness makes you go into your own soul, your own emotion. If you are emotionally grounded, you will find hope in them with this light coming through. But if you are in a fragile state, you could really get into that lost sort of place. For an artist, it’s amazing to be able to pull that out of people.”

Dyptick from the Prairie North Creative Residency

While Klukas clearly didn’t intend to bring pain to anyone through this painting, pain exists. It’s already there in every human life. It’s especially there in the lives of cancer patients, who are clearly at their most vulnerable. Pain surfaces in a person’s response to a painting because it has already sur- faced in his or her life. Pain is as valid and honest a response as pleasure is; darkness is as real as light.

Klukas has come to realize that what any given painting means to her as its creator is only part of its totality. A viewer comes to it with his or her own associations; own experiences, thoughts and ideas; and own life lived and understood and most importantly, felt. The viewer brings him or herself to the work of art and completes it.

“People will always bring their own meanings to it,” says Klukas. In the absence of an obvious, concrete subject, the viewer reaches into the void and grasps for something solid; waits for the separate particles of paint to coalesce into something that means something. It could potentially be anything. It could be many things at the same time. It could be something different every time you look at it. Each painting is redolent with possibilities.

“That’s what I love about abstract art,” Klukas enthuses. “You can come back to it again and again and see something different in it.” It is open to multiple and divergent inter- pretations. It is layered. It avoids the limitations of being one- dimensional, a single narrative. It is “not,” in Klukas’ words, “a quick read.”

Copper Arabesques

Nor is it, in Klukas’ case, a quick process. She often works on a single painting over a period of weeks or months. Beginning with a white, gessoed panel, she applies liquid acrylic paints in an intuitive process; unplanned and wide open in her approach. Many times, her first co- lours are metallics. When the first application of paint is dry, she’ll sand selected areas of the painting, revealing what is beneath it. Then she’ll alternately paint and sand again and again. In some places she’ll take the work back to its beginnings, abrading the top surfaces in order to move back through layers of creation to the original light of the gesso.

For Klukas, “the meaning (of a painting) is in the process.” The alternation of additive processes (applying paint) with subtractive processes (sanding the paint away) is a meta- phor for life as it is lived; growth and pruning, if you will. She sees the removal of paint as the “releasing of blocks,” enabling her to “find the truer, inner beauty of the work.” Her approach is almost sculptural – in both the physical effort required, and in the process of paring away material in order to discover the ‘figure’ within (so to speak). The artist has to hold onto a belief in the essential being of the work, in the inevitability of it.
And then there is the polish. Once satisfied with colour and composition, Klukas applies a thick, glassy layer of varnish to each painting. This creates an absolutely flat, smooth finish that begs to be touched (again, like sculpture). More im- portantly, perhaps, it adds the reflectivity in which one sees oneself.
Rich and complex in depth, colour and visual texture, with soft-edged, weightless masses and fluid, organic line; Klukas’ work has a female quality about it. It is a woman’s art. It is intense. It is emotional. And it is beautiful.

Beauty is a quality that has been marginalized and maligned by some in the art world in recent decades, but Klukas says of her work: “It is what it is. I won’t apologize for it.” Maybe beauty won’t change the world, Klukas concedes. But, she says, “Maybe it’s time for beauty to make a comeback. Maybe there’s just too much ugliness in the world right now.”

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