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Me, Myself and You

Art Kleinman's narrow range of subject matter -- himself -- has nonetheless resulted in insightful works of art

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Piet Mondrian began by painting things like trees and churches before his mission to explore the essence of form led him to basic geometric works. Art Kleinman's revelation was just the opposite; his abstract geometric works wound up in Chicago's Museum of Contemporary art in 1989, but, shortly after, he began to paint himself.

For more than 10 years now, Kleinman has done nothing but execute self-portraits. It's not hard to see why he would do this: Looking at several of his oversized drawings of his own head and life-size paintings of his entire body, it is clear he is not pursuing vanity, traditional portraiture or anything else, short of a frightening journey into his own soul and an exhortation for us to consider the very meaning of being.

If that sounds heavy, one look at the paintings' center, the artist's dark pupils locking with those of the viewer, confirms his mission. In painting after painting, the artist is going for something "confrontational in an open way, not in a dominating way, kind of like a presentation of myself: 'Here I am -- deal with it'; but it's also 'Here we all are,'" says Kleinman. "The gaze is intended to be direct so that there's contact made eye to eye, so it kind of becomes ... [like] looking in the mirror and it loses itself, and, hopefully, the viewer also starts thinking about themselves when they're looking at it."

Mondrian was at the height of his talents when he died, having just completed 1943's "Broadway Boogie Woogie." Kleinman may have just begun to take the next major step in his evolution as an artist, moving beyond the figure to depict more background in his paintings. Let us hope his fascinating journey continues to deepen for a long time.

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