Ernestine Klecz

Michael Gunn
→BFA PT 2024

Ernestine Klecz

BFA ILL 2024

April 13, 2024, 5:30 PM:
Ernestine was at a desk in the Illustration Building, midway through a large watercolor, when I arrived.

Favorite tool: pattern.

All images taken on site by Michael Gunn

MG Could you tell me about the watercolors? What’s happening in these images?

EK I started doing these pieces after Wintersession. I brought these Luma Liquid watercolors from home; my mom used them and they are discontinued and rare now. I’ve started making these scenes about journey and exploration. I’ve been focused on this daydream we have as children—that you want to shrink down and explore the world and stop and analyze tiny details. So I’ve been thinking about enlarging those small worlds to allow the viewer to explore and look at places that seem alien through a new lens. I try to allow the audience to make their own assumptions about what they are seeing. I spend a lot of time layering and having patience while I'm working; the focus required to think through it as it’s made is important to me. I often start with a repeated shape, especially circles, and build slowly off of them as the image grows. Allowing it to develop naturally to colors and responding to the fluidity lets the material do the work for me. Watercolors are often known for their transparency, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of laying down a flat opaque color and moving forward.

MG I know you also do drawings, animations, tattoos, and other photo and sculptural processes. What have you discovered about working so experimentally across mediums?

EK Each medium brings its own excitement, something to look forward to. I build little challenges for myself and solve them as I’m making the work. I treat the watercolors and graphite drawings differently than animations where I have to consider motion. Of course, when I’m making the works on paper I still think about fluidity and movement, but in the animations I have to think about full illusions for motion. Or lithography, for example, requires not only drawing, but also responding to the stone and the inks and materials as I print. This is all motivating.

MG So you respond a lot to material … how would you describe what is happening to the logic in the images? I’m noticing some motifs, do they hold significance in their form or materiality too?

EK There are a few motifs I return to. The tent, the tree stump, and personified plants all have their own meanings. The tent is a symbol I use to focus on adaptability, coming from my experiences of living in a lot of different places … that you can pick up and go wherever to make a temporary home. The tree stump is a way of inserting a presence into the work … that there is human intervention or a life that passed through but it continued on. My work is about nature and our traces of activity in places and how we interact, discover, and affect the world. I don’t like depicting figures in my bigger, more intentional pieces. I tend to represent our presence in a different way, bringing the world back to life, or in connection to humans through the process of making. I tend to look at artists who worked through similar ideas. That’s why I like Hilma af Klint so much.

MG Are there other books, people, or things you’ve watched that get you through to the finished work or make the images feel more possible?

EK Oh yeah, definitely Soviet animations. I refer back to them often. They are so heavy thematically but also surreal and magical to a child viewer. It is only when I’ve come back to them now that I really understand the context and what was going on. The artists at the time were processing and making reactions to current events, but of course, it had to be mostly symbolic because the government didn’t let them show things blatantly. That subliminal messaging is what I see now, but as a child it was really just calming, and now it’s nostalgic. The Little Mole is one in particular that focuses on the interaction between people and nature, being in a forest and coming across human intervention. I also look at a lot of graphic design that implements visual elements that tread the line between design and fine art. One book I spend a lot of time with has a collection of images of designed record sleeves. The artists have this strict design parameter and seeing how they solved it is compelling. Limitations and puzzle-like challenges are how I make work as well. A Gustav Klimt print hung in my house growing up, above the staircase. I have a vivid memory of it, and now I love how he flattens out and incorporates patterns into clothing and the figures’ form.

MG Putting a pattern on the body’s form reminds me a lot of tattooing. What is tattoo culture like at RISD and how do you engage with it?

EK The motifs I draw translate well into small graphic illustrations. It allows me to segue from fine arts, pulling out little pieces and flattening them into tattooable drawings. My friend asked me what the difference between skin and paper feels like. Skin is fully alive, and tattooing each person is so different. The way the skin reacts to taking the ink is specific to each person. Tattooing is challenging because of how easy it is to mess up; I concentrate in a different and deeper way. It is a shared trust too. RISD tattoo culture is super supportive and casual in a really refreshing way. Everyone knows so many of us are just starting out, so it gives a lot of space to experiment.

I know you get one tattoo for each semester from a different friend; I like how tattoos function as time capsules. It is really special to collect tattoos in that way, these little memories we keep during our short time here. At RISD, we trade things for other things, or doing this or that, for a tattoo. It becomes its own ecosystem in a way that tattooing in the real world can’t. It is a lot less bureaucratic and pretentious.

MG How does it feel now to talk about and allow the RISD community into your process? And, thanks for letting me visit your space.

EK People really do like being able to listen in and see into an artist's work. I’m really excited to show my work more publicly now. I feel like I’m finally ready to put my work out there because I’m my hardest critic, so it took me time to gain the confidence.

Ernestine Klecz is looking for extra long pants.

Michael Gunn is preparing to plant tomato seedlings for a backyard garden.