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Paint, gravity and fluid dynamics – the work of Ute Klein

— April 2015

Associated media

Ute Klein, return, 2011. Acryl, temporary wall painting, 4x26m, Kunstraum Engländerbau, Vaduz (Principality of Liechtenstein)

Ute Klein’s painting is not yet well known in Britain or the USA, but Alexander Adams says we should look out for it

Architects and public authorities with budgets to expend on site-specific art might be interested to contact and commission the Swiss painter Ute Klein. Klein (b.1965) is a painter who works within the category of Entropic art – using forces of gravity, fluid dynamics and paint chemistry to construct art over which the artist has only partial control.

Klein works by pouring dilute oil paint on flat surfaces and then tilting, turning and curving those surfaces, causing the paint to extend in rills, tendrils and diminishing rivulets. These paintings can be small scale and involve one pour and manipulation or can be on large canvases and involve repeated applications of different colours. The most complex ones evoke forests, with broad vertical bands in dark hues forming the trunks and slender sprays of wandering rivulets in green making the foliage. The smallest works can be the most dramatic because of their simplicity. Trails become cruel hooks and art nouveau fronds.

Generally, Klein well balances the necessity of thin paint for purposes of flow against the insubstantiality of the material when dry. Inevitably, there are occasions where the transparency makes the impression of slightness. The occasional graininess of surfaces does not always work and lacquer would seem the natural alternative medium in those instances. What is surprising is how few of the paintings seem decorative or trite, which is a tribute to the painter’s intelligence and skill (and no doubt the result of careful editing of her output).

A new German-language publication by Scheidegger & Spiess (2014, 112 pages, hardback, €44;00) showcases not only small paintings on paper and larger canvases (up to three metres for the sweepingly dramatic tilt and turn 12 (2006)) but also her public commissions. In these, single-colour pourings are enlarged and transferred to walls (in lime paint or acrylic) for temporary exhibition or permanent installation. These add two elements: the relationship between the original pouring and the transposed form, and the viewer’s physical relationship with the building.

The former generates a frisson of imagination that puts the viewer in the double position of viewing the transposition and considering the absent original. The latter is to do with the business of scale. We react differently to art depending on its size, especially when the art is at giant size. Klein’s astute choice of colour strongly guides our associations when viewing the murals.

While a number of artists have worked in similar ways, Klein’s painting stands out in its purity and élan. So far Klein’s work has been recognized only in central Europe. It would be rewarding to see a few murals commissioned in the UK so we could judge the art first hand.


Alexander Adams
Writer and artist

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