The space between

Painter Jordana Klein finds herself in negative space.

Painter Jordana Klein finds herself in negative space (photo credit: YAIR HAR-OZ)
Painter Jordana Klein finds herself in negative space
(photo credit: YAIR HAR-OZ)
Jordana Klein always saw herself as an artist. Growing up on Long Island, New York, she took art classes and loved to use colors.
Somewhat atypically for a painter who is both creative and imaginative, Klein found herself equally adept at math and science. This led her to double major in fine arts and political science. “I’m a very right- and left-brain combination,” she says. “What’s really fun is to see those two sides meet, which I try to do in my art.”
After college, she worked as vice president of a bank.
She avoided pursuing art professionally because she didn’t want to fall into one of the positions that many young artists find themselves in, such as graphic design, illustration or teaching. Klein wanted to maintain her art the way she wanted it to be, the way it is inside of her. If she would ever be lucky enough to make art as more than a hobby, she would make it her way.
Klein continued to take classes at various art schools in New York, including Parsons, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the New School. Each place offered a different approach, which fed her fondness for collecting a plethora of ideas and mixing and matching them.
Klein made aliya in 1997 and moved to Beit Shemesh, where she still resides. After fielding job offers from various banks, she decided that she didn’t want to work in that capacity anymore.
“I took an art class at the Israel Museum,” she recalls.
“They have great art courses for adults in the youth wing. My teacher asked me why I wasn’t selling my art. It struck a chord, and I’ve been doing it now for the last 20 odd years.”
Klein’s art began selling immediately to a mostly American clientele. She eschewed going the more traditional route of finding a gallery, hiring someone to represent her, and paying to exhibit. Her paintings were selling, and people seemed to like them. She was pleased.
She attributes her immediate success to filling a niche. Paintings tend to be either inexpensive or priced at thousands of dollars. Klein’s art falls in the middle.
“The quality of my art is the same as the ones that are asking for tens of thousands of dollars, but I’m asking for between $1,000 and $4,000,” Klein states. “I can do that because I’m extremely prolific. I have over 500 paintings, and to have them sitting in my studio makes me sad. I want to share them with the world. I hit that spot that relates to people monetarily.”
Klein’s use of color is bold without being jarring.
When asked about her style, she responds that she doesn’t have one. It is constantly changing. As soon as she finds herself in one style or approach, she immediately thinks about what she can do next and how to twist it to a different angle. She consciously no longer looks at other artists’ work, for fear that it will seep into her head and influence her.
Even though Klein is constantly changing styles, her art is never too realistic. She loves to utilize colors that don’t quite belong there. One could classify some of her paintings as purely abstract, but most exist on the border between familiar and unknown, real and imagined. They leave room for the viewer to make the art their own, while subtly suggesting emotions. Klein has painted many abstract versions of Jerusalem’s Old City. While it is immediately evident that the scene is the Old City, there is a pervasive dream-like quality.
“Many people are afraid of totally abstract art,” she shares. “There’s a lot out there that’s really good, and you could make it into anything you want it to be in your head. But I like that I’m planting a kernel that’s clear enough for people to then jump off of. I love that challenge.
“My paintings are not of things; they’re of something that evokes a certain feeling when you look at it.
There is always movement in my paintings; emotion, dance, prayer. I love to be able to take a paintbrush and create something that wasn’t there before. Half my work is of nature and flora. I’m obsessed with flowers that are alive and moving. You capture a moment when the flower is that way in that light, and it will never be that way again.”
Klein was an artist-in-residence at the 5th Quarter Gallery in the Old City from 2014 to 2017. The gallery still exhibits and sells her work. During those three years, she was shocked at how spiritually infused she felt, like a blank canvas soaking in new colors.
Around this same time, she turned 50, which she describes as a very holistic stage of life. She began to see the space around an item and the air that connected her to it. According to Klein, the space between is where feelings and spirit live. Focusing on what is termed negative space in art was a breakthrough for the seasoned painter, allowing her to create in a new way.
“Now I’m not just painting what’s there, but what’s not there,” she adds.
She began with spray paint, which, unlike painting with a brush, has built-in negative space. Klein would softly spray from off to the side, covering the canvas unevenly. She would then throw on things, such as grass from her yard, that would prevent the paint from sticking. This produced even more negative space, from which she worked and built up positive space.
Then she began to challenge herself to try the new technique with a brush. She arrived at a place where she was able to use vividly bright colors that covered the canvas, while at the same time pushing herself to find those places that could be left blank.
“Art is a journey, and I’ve been gifted to follow this journey,” Klein shares. “I asked myself, What is the next step? I’ve got solid paintings, spiritual, physical, marrying the two together; pieces that evoke joy; others, like the Holocaust series, that evoke something more somber. So I decided to paint on mirror. When I paint on mirror, the areas that I leave open are taken up by whatever is around it. It’s reflecting wherever it is, and the viewer can even be in the piece, if they want to, just by looking at it.”
Klein began this new direction of painting on mirrors a year-and-a-half ago. Then she decided she needed to take it one step further. The negative space is present with the mirror, but it is also taken up by whatever the mirror is reflecting. Glass was the natural evolutionary choice. When she paints on glass, the negative space appears once it is hung on the wall.
She admits that she has received mixed reactions to the glass series. People wonder what it will look like on the wall. But she insists that, ultimately, it is irrelevant; they simply needed to be painted that way.
Klein has enough of a range that customers are sure to find whatever appeals most to them. At this point in her artistic journey, she has come full circle in a somewhat surprising way. She realized that the next step after glass was Judaica, what she always thought she wanted to avoid.
“I pull the viewer into my art, into the mirror and the glass, then I paint scenes like a huppa where the viewer is pulled into the joy and everything that is emanating from that,” Klein says.
“But it’s still a painting on a wall. I want to get into that ceremony.
I want the art to be within the huppa, which is to be a part of the ritual itself. The way that I got to do that was by creating ketubot [marriage contracts]. A ketuba has long been considered a type of art. But mine are based on my paintings, and I think there is room for me here.”
When creating a ketuba, Klein sits down with the couple and goes through her art, to choose the one that best reflects the tone they want for their wedding day and marriage. Some want a more religious theme, while others choose based on colors such as soft pastels. Klein uses computerized text that looks like it was done by a sofer (scribe), since she does not do calligraphy. This keeps the price down significantly. She has designed about 65 so far.
Her latest Judaica product finds her printing her artwork on high-quality glass to create halla plates. Now her art has become part of the Shabbat table, in addition to the wedding ceremony.
In the space between, Klein has placed her work inside the sacred rituals.
Where she will go from here remains to be seen.
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