In Conversation with Karina Klever

It is our pleasure to share our conversation with Karina Klever. Karina is the daughter the late abstract and landscape painter Klever, here she gives us an insight of his painting method and what it was like growing up with such an renowned artist.

Ask any artist, and most will tell you that the art within them cannot be contained. It cannot be limited by conformity; their art cannot be censored. Growing up in the former Soviet Union, abstract and landscape painter Klever became one of the countries most celebrated underground artists. Coined a “non-conformist” artist, because he refused to adhere to the censorship that prohibited artists from creating historical, religious, abstract, anti-Soviet, and erotic art.


SG: When did you become aware of his importance as an artist?

KK: When I was 5 years old. Several things happened;  - I would hide my parents from the KGB. My job was to look through the front-door peephole and if I saw stars on the shoulders or hat of the  visitor's uniform (similar to this:), I would signal my parents to hide. Since we lived in a communal apartment, my parents would run into the closet of a really really old lady who lived in one of the bedrooms. Once I knew they were hidden, I'd let the visitors in. They would look everywhere for my parents, asking when & where I saw them last, I always made up a story. Once they went through the communal kitchen and bathroom and bedroom where we lived, they would go to the neighbor's bedrooms. Another family lived next to us and they were used to the disruptions. They always said they didn't know where he was. Then they would knock on the door of the really really old lady, and she would start yelling at them. I remember she would yell things like "Don't you young hoodlums have anything better to do than bother an old lady?!" She would be great at getting mad at them and threatening a heart attack (which, would be their fault), so they would always leave in a hurry.

- We (well, Papa) had a studio in the center of the city where he painted. It was in the "original" part of city, breathtaking architecture, high ceilings, buildings built so tough they've stood for many hundreds of years. Along the back of one of the rooms, my dad made a fake wall. It looked like the real wall that was there. The original wall and fake wall paralleled each other, creating a space that was approximately 2 meters deep. The fake wall had a large cut-out in it, this cut-out was just slightly smaller than the wide chest of drawers we would slide in front of the hole. The space in the wall was used for storing paintings. The chest of drawers would cover up the hole, and I would sleep in the bottom drawer. That way when the KGB came and inspected the studio, they would only find my bed, and leave.

As a child I thought my dad was important because someone was always trying to catch him, and there are numerous other stories about some of my experiences. I only realized as an adult that he was important because he painted images that the government (at the time) opposed, and tried to suppress him from that. His global flight is really simply all about chasing the ability to put whatever he wanted to on canvas. Today, his pieces tell a historical story.


SG: What would you say was the highlight of his career?

KK: There were several. I believe that personally for him, when we left the former Soviet Union, it was a huge win because he gained the freedom to paint whatever he wanted to. Financially, a highlight was in the late 1980's, when he would sell paintings before they dried, and had galleries courting him. This latter "highlight" turned bad when a Russian gallery owner started to sell his work and steal from him. She didn't pay him the correct sums (shorted him: several hundred every few months opposed to many thousand every week), would steal work from him, and proudly touted that she sent her four kids through college on his artwork, but never paid the artist. When my dad found that out, he got very recluse and never really snapped out of it. He continued to paint until (literally) the day he died, however never got back into a large marketing mode. Besides, artists have a hard time marketing themselves to start with, and my dad's broken English undermined some of his confidence.


SG: Can you talk about his ideas and how they evolved?

KK: He mostly painted what he saw and what emotion he was experiencing. Over the course of his life he had quite obvious dark moments, and some very bright ones - Reflected in his work. Overall he just needed to put paint or ink, on something. When my high school boyfriend's mother died, he painted a piece which shows her rising to heaven from the cross. She was one of the first people in my life that died so I was very sad for a long time and it really affected my dad.

He exchanged the piece, and the piece's current owner has it listed on Art Broker: Likewise, the politically defiant pieces on (the ones that were rolled up in a makeshift wall, and smuggled out of the country in 1987), were all about the government. The website also has some pieces inspired by concerts. There is a small series of acrobats/circus, in horror of Cirque De Soleil. His ideas just came from life all around him. He had a particular way of seeing life, and projecting it onto canvas/paper.


SG: And what about his work? Any favorites?

KK: I'd say that I'm a little too close to have favorites, because they're all so beautiful. There are a few that I would like to hold onto out of sheer sentimentality, however right now I'd really like to have the world see dad's art.


SGCan you tell us about his method of painting

KK: His approach was very broad, without a lot of sketching beforehand. The images would just come out of his fingers it seemed. The charcoal on paper pieces were created straight from an image in his head. Abstracts focused on composition and balance. He liked to tell a story with the larger pieces. He loved texture, and many of the larger pieces have a very thick application of paint, here is a small example of the edges of two pieces:  

He appreciated and loved to work with anything that could be creative, including ceramics and sculpting. He used everything from broad brushes to the thinnest ink lines to get his imagery across. Here is an image of one of his ink drawings from his personal drawing book:


SG: What do you want your viewers to take away from his work?

KK: There are a few angles I'd like to highlight;

- From a personal perspective, viewers must be appreciative of their freedoms. They are probably (and, hopefully) living a life where they can create whatever they want.

- From a historical perspective, it's important to study the political pieces and capture lessons learned. My father loved Mother Russia with all his heart. He just had issue with the government running the country, and depicted images of his perceptions and experiences on canvas.

- From an art appreciation perspective, I'm hoping that viewers are able to appreciate the hugely broad talent range that my dad had.


>>>view paintings by Klever