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Franz Kline's story reads like a movie plot: Young artist starts out with high hopes, spends years struggling without success, eventually finds a style, becomes an "overnight sensation" and dies too soon. He left us with the understanding that one of the ways to approach Abstract Expressionism was through psychic vision. He couldn't explain what his paintings meant, because that wasn't their purpose. Kline's paintings were supposed to make one feel, not comprehend.
Young Franz, the cartoonist for his high school newspaper, was a good enough student to leave coal-mining country and attend Boston University. An ambitious budding artist, he went on from there to study at the Art Students League, and then Heatherly Art School in London. In 1938, he returned to the US with his British wife and settled in New York City.
New York really didn't care much that it had talent back from England ready to take on the world. Franz struggled for years as a figurative artist, doing portraits (for two loyal patrons) that won him a modest reputation. He also painted city- and landscapes, and occasionally resorted to painting barroom murals to get up the rent money. In the mid 1940s, he met fellow artists Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and began to follow his own growing interest in trying new ways of painting.
Kline had been noodling around with black and white for years, creating small brush drawings and projecting them onto the wall of his studio. Now he got rather serious about creating the projected images using just his arm, brush and mental imagery. The pictures that began to emerge were given a solo exhibition in New York in 1950. As a result of the show, Franz became a Name and his large, black and white compositions - likened to grids, or Oriental calligraphy - achieved notoriety.
His reputation as a leading Abstract Expressionist secured, Kline concentrated on turning out his new passion. The nature of his work was such that the pieces have short, meaningless names, such as Painting (sometimes followed by a number), New York, Rust or the old stand-by (untitled). He spent his last years trying to introduce color back into the mix, but was cut down in his prime by heart failure.
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