Dion Kliner was born in Los Angeles, California in 1959. After attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (BFA 1986), and East Texas State University (MFA 1989) he moved to New York City where he worked as a sculptor and writer until 2003 when he relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia. His sculpture has shown throughout North America. As a writer he regularly contributes critical essays to the Italian art journal Flash Art, writes numerous exhibition catalogue essays, and recently wrote the introduction and essay to Silent Warriors: Contemporary Portraits of North American Indians, Steidl publishing, 2009.
Dion Kliner in his own words:
My story begins the way most stories of art probably do, with painting. In high school I knew that I wanted to make my life in the Arts, though I wasn’t sure in which. When I entered the University of British Columbia it was as a philosophy major; not because I had any desire to be a philosopher, but because I felt that philosophy provided the most fertile ground for a writer. By the time I was suspended for academic discipline in my third year, my eye was on transferring to Fine Art.
A condition of my suspension being that I couldn’t attend any university for a year, I immigrated to Israel, enrolled in an art school, and began painting in earnest. Painting went well, but my Hebrew wasn’t sufficient to make sense of classes. It had been almost a year since I’d arrived, and I decided to return to Canada to continue my education in English. Before leaving Be’er Sheva I arranged an exhibition of my paintings at a local gallery, my first.
In Canada I enrolled at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from which I received a BFA. I enrolled thinking I was a painter, but during my first sculpture class I discovered that I was a sculptor. While in Halifax I participated in several exhibitions, and was awarded commissions for sculptures in Halifax and Vancouver. At NSCAD I also met Darcy Mann, a painter who would eventually be my wife.
After NSCAD we attended East Texas State University (now part of Texas A&M) where I received an MFA. While there I undertook several series that I consider the beginning of my mature work. Buried Sculpture concerned the way knowledge changes perception. For these, various materials including pigments were welded into steel boxes and buried. (Years later, when living in New York, I did Buried Landscape, a variation using brass bars stamped with the names of landscape elements like “boulder” and “horizon” at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Ward’s Island. In “All Roads Lead,” an exhibition I put up in the university gallery, I first showed my Entropic State drawings. I came to the idea for these drawings through following the Kabbalistic notion of a missing twenty-third letter of the Hebrew alphabet said to be hidden in the white spaces between the letters. From those spaces the larger Torah was still to emerge yet it was already there. I began to think of the possibilities. Perhaps a text within a text. Perhaps a landscape. Perhaps a drawing. The first drawings made use of: all the elements on the New York Stock Exchange, the Communist Manifesto, the Table of Elements, and Genesis. During a mandatory “semester away” from ETSU I spent seven months in Israel, three of which were as a HILAI artist in residence in the town of Mitzpe Ramon. While there I continued the text drawings, doing the first five books of the Torah, in Hebrew. Later on in New York I submitted many Beckett texts to the same treatment. Made by the random distribution of letters on paper, an entire text is contained in each drawing, but has been pulverized and dumped to form outcroppings of possibility which at any moment could crumble back to their original state or dissolve into something new. Finally there were the Meaningless Objects. The meaningless objects were small plaster objects resembling crystals displayed on sheet metal “shelves.” Some of the meaningless objects were protected by glass “meaningproof boxes.”
After graduation we moved to Vancouver for a short time, and then Toronto. In Vancouver I got a studio, I exhibited the Meaningless Objects at the old Vancouver Arts Council, and continued working with plaster. In Toronto I once again found a studio, and began trying to find gallery representation. During a trip to New York I discovered that I could be doing just as poorly in New York as I was in Toronto (with the added benefit of being in New York); after only ten months in Toronto we moved to New York.
The bulk of my effort since 1999 has been in that whole zone of sculpture that has been set aside by many sculptors as something unusable, as something by definition incompatible with art; the base. Not the pedestal mind you, the base. Take a walk through almost any museum and you’ll see sculptures of figures that are smooth, and stiff, and uninspired. Sometimes though, if you lower your gaze it is possible to discover a base of surprising expression and interest which is usually overlooked.
The first Base came after seeing Matisse’s Large Seated Nude on a trip to MOMA. For several years afterwards, however, I focused on a series of comical landscape elements (Clouds, Boulders, Comet, Avalanche) that were also indebted to the paintings of Philip Guston. Inspired by the metal work I was doing at the American Museum of Natural History at the time, I did a series of small landscapes in steel.
When I came back to the Bases, they were initially sculptures of the bases of other sculptures; not identical reproductions, but close enough approximations that if a person were familiar with the original sculpture they would recognize my sculpture as the base, so that my Mountain Man is Frederick Remington’s Mountain Man, my Mercury Attaching His Wings is Jean Baptiste- Pigalle’s Mercury Attaching His Wings.
In 2007, having left New York and the easy and direct contact with so much historical sculpture, I began to combine my accumulated knowledge of bases with direct observation from nature, (clouds and trees). This was an effort not only to improve my skill at modeling, but to take advantage of what was now around me. Since 2010 I have been reintroducing feet onto the Bases; both of my own making, and of historical bases like Carpeaux’s Ugolino and His Sons. Coinciding with the reintroduction of the figure I have changed my method of construction. Formerly the Bases were first modeled in clay, molded, cast in plaster, then covered in wax. Now, to introduce more immediacy, I have begun to model directly in plaster over an armature, and leave the plaster raw. More than my interest in their look and history, the real point of my working from bases is as a way to add rigor and limits to how I make a sculpture.
In 2011, I began an unrelated series of sculptures called Oil Filters made from blocks of crushed car and truck filters. Their pedigree is palpable, from John Chamberlain and Carl Andre, through abstract expressionism, and especially Philip Guston. The Oil Filters have as much to do with painting as they do with sculpture.
Their placement on bases of recycled paper is both aesthetic and practical. Aesthetically it moves the filters a step away from the ready-made and back towards traditional sculpture on a base. Because the bases are made from recycled paper (drawings and mat board that I collect, pulp and cast) they are conceptually consistent with the filter blocks above. Practically, the bases act as blotters for any residual oil that leaks out of the filter blocks, and protects against their sharp edges. More so than the Bases, I believe the success of the Oil Filters is determined not so much by what they look like themselves, as by what other art they remind a particular viewer of. They trade very much on echoes.
Since 1983 I’ve exhibited with a certain regularity. Most have been of my drawings, and mainly through the Pierogi Flatfiles in Brooklyn. Sculpture has been a much harder sell, but one of the highlights was my installation of four casts of The Little Hunchback in the rotunda of the Vancouver Art Gallery for “Unreal.”
As an extension of making art, I began writing about art in graduate school. My first published piece was “After the Disasteroid” which appeared in Flash Art in 1998. Since then I have published more than forty reviews and catalog essays, and have done the accompanying texts for two books of photographs.
For all things Dion Kliner: www.dionkliner.com