Artist Q&A: Anita Klein

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Posted 7th June 2021

From 1 May to 4 July, Watts Contemporary Gallery hosts Anita Klein: Together, a new exhibition in collaboration with Eames Fine Art. 

Anita is a renowned British painter-printmaker, known for her confident use of line, dazzling colour palette and poignant subject matter, exploring the humour and beauty of everyday life. Describing her works as a 'visual diary', she captures personal observations and celebratory moments to create images and memories that are universally understood.

Whilst selecting works for the exhibition, we spoke to Anita about the exhibition title and theme, how the last year has impacted her artistic practice and what she is most looking forward to in 2021.

Why did you decide to title the exhibition Together and what are the main themes in the exhibition?

The pandemic changed all of our lives, making my obsession with capturing what I would miss if my ordinary life were somehow taken away, relevant to everyone. My work is a visual diary and a way of counting my blessings, especially for family, friends and intimate relationships. This past year ‘what I would miss’ has been thrown into sharp focus as ‘what I am missing’ - closeness to my grown-up children and grandchildren in particular. Together is an exhibition about that closeness that we treasure and previously took for granted, as we all take a few tentative steps back into normality.

Do you have a favourite work in the exhibition?
All these pictures are precious to me, as they are reminders of fleeting phases in my grandchildren’s lives and my incredible good fortune to be able to share them.
All your works are linked by themes of family, friendship, love and joy.

Why are you particularly drawn to these subjects?
My subject matter is my everyday life, specifically my intimate relationships. Each work I make is a celebration of what makes me happy. They are a kind of thankfulness for joy.

How important was your early training and how did it prepare you for life as an artist?
I was very lucky to have seven years at art school on a grant with scholarships. A year’s foundation course at Chelsea School of Art followed by a 4-year degree in painting at the Slade and a two-year postgraduate course in Printmaking also at the Slade. This gave me ample time to go down the wrong paths and to arrive at my own subject matter. It’s a training that’s sustained me for the rest of my life.

As a painter and printmaker, you are continuously working across different mediums. What is the difference between these two practices for you?
All my work begins in my sketchbooks, which I have kept continuously for 40 years, documenting small moments and ideas which later become my raw material. These days, I usually go straight from sketchbook drawings to large paintings on canvas, taking great pains to make balanced compositions in pencil before changing things again and again in paint, until the initial idea settles into a harmonious design and encapsulates the feeling of the moment, as opposed to what it looks like. I work solely from memory and don’t use models or mirrors. Some of my paintings go on to inspire further explorations of the same subject in various print techniques. You’ll see some examples of this in the exhibition, where I’ve reiterated the same subject multiple times in different mediums.

Which artists inspire your practice or do you most admire?
I have been very inspired throughout my career by early Italian Renaissance and fresco paintings. Those are the pictures that I find most beautiful. They hit me in a way that I can’t explain and I often feel moved to tears looking at them. I want my works to be as beautiful. What I’m always striving for is a balance, work that feels calming to look at, but like Giotto or Piero della Francesca, includes the viewer by conferring dignity and beauty on the ordinary and depicting it as miraculous.

How has the last year changed the way you work or what you are creating?
Before the pandemic, I spent one week every month painting in my studio in Italy. This routine is how I’ve worked for the past 13 years, using the journey and complete isolation as a kind of retreat from the busyness of everyday life and a chance to play and experiment with new work without the constraints of interaction with family. Obviously this has been impossible in the past year, except an idyllic three-week stretch last July when I managed to get away. This has made me sad but, in a way, the pandemic has provided an excess of alone time and so it’s been a very productive time for painting in London.

What does 2021 look like for you? What other exhibitions or projects are you currently working on?
In 2020, I had one solo exhibition close early - Anita Klein at Lauderdale House - and four more cancelled or postponed. Although I did have a solo exhibition, Water, with Eames Fine Art last October. Together is the first of the postponed shows to be rescheduled and I’m hoping that the others, including a solo exhibition in France and my ‘Printmaker of the Year’ show in the Lake District will go ahead later this year.

Finally, what would your advice be for emerging artists?
Do what matters to you, regardless of fashion. Stick with it. Work relentlessly and bounce back from a million rejections. Don’t try to be original. Be yourself and you will be original by definition.


Together
is on display in Watts Contemporary Gallery from 1 May – 4 July. Free admission with all works for sale. No booking required.

If you would like to hear Anita talk further about her work, in conversation with Alistair Burtenshaw (Director of Watts Gallery) and Vincent Eames (Director of Eames Fine Art), you can book tickets to our online In Conversation talk, taking place on 10 June 6pm - 7.30pm.

Anita Klein's works can also be purchased on our online Watts shop.