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Rachel Klinghoffer Bender

Very quickly, I get drawn in Rachel Klinghoffer Bender’s paintings, and my mind begins to wander in a waking dreamscape. Her work activates an in-between space, where reality and fantasy merge in a very natural way, evoking a time and place simultaneously familiar and alien. The rich and unusual coloration, draws the eye to explore each layer, challenging our imagination to place itself in this new world. Our current reality needs a place to dream, and the past months have brought on lots of worries in the art world, like how many Chelsea galleries are closing, the reductions of art auctions, and how this inevitably affects the artists. These lean times call for a new kind of creativity, or maybe a bit of a return to the hardscrabble.  So on that note, I urge you to visit Rachel’s new show at Kate Robinson Fine Art, a new gallery/alternative space, made extra-welcoming because it is in Kate Robinson’s home. The space ushers in a much-welcomed return to a time where art is a conversation between artists and viewers, eye contact necessary.

Name: Rachel Klinghoffer Bender
Birthday: September 24
Hometown: Short Hills, New Jersey
Marital status: Married for a little over a year to Justin Bender
Upcoming Projects or Shows: My first solo show, "Two Blue," at Kate Robinson Fine Art Opening January 27 and runs through March 1. Opening Reception, January 27 from 7-9 p.m. at Kate Robinson Fine Art, 65 E 3rd St 2F, 646.918.7511,
Favorite winter treat: Soup. I love soup in the biggest way. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and all in the same day. Practically any kind will do, too. As long as there is no shellfish or pork in it I’ll eat it with a smile on my face and be one happy camper.
Favorite Obama-fact: That one of his favorite TV shows is MASH, which is one of my favorites as well.
Last book you read: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

What are some of the questions that you are exploring in your work?

My paintings deconstruct what you visually know as true or real. Through an exploration of color and collaging of semi-real and semi-imagined spaces the concept of signification is examined. There is a duality that is confronted with what you know as true but is put in a different context and then what is seen becomes foreign. The spaces I create are familiar and disorienting all at once.  They raise the questions of what is actually going on, what does this imagery mean, underscoring the frailty of linguistic signs.

What drew you to painting, and how has it shaped how you look at the world?

I honestly always liked making a mess as kid, it was a great way to make a pretty mess. I always enjoyed the actual act of painting as it was a way of playing and as my love of doing it grew I let it turn into something else. Painting became a more structured thing for me as I began to learn how to edit, finding that I was able to see more with less. Living in Manhattan I am bombarded by a constant stream of information of sounds and visuals. The more I am exposed to, the deeper this database. Then there is this wealth of information that I categorize, literally.  I take pictures of everything and cut things out from the newspaper, from magazines, images form the Internet and categorize them into a visual library, this is my visual vocabulary. This database is broken down alphabetically that includes folders within folders of broader themes as time to specific locations as "views from crossing the Hudson." This system of categorization allows me to take everything in and sort it out and edit. Painting as a process has allowed me to be able to look at things and visually edit them, breaking down colors into planes. I am then able to look at the word and in my head piece together all these different elements and create my own version of it, my own narrative.

Who are the artists who have influenced you, and what draws you to their work?

So many different artists through different mediums for innumerable ways influence me but I would have to say the artists of the Hudson River School and the paintings of David Hockney are focal points for me right now.

Landscape painting in the United States from around 1820-1880 was focused around this idea of the American sublime. Artist such as Frederic Edwin Church and J.M.W. Turner who wanted to show the public an ideal landscape, a paradise of this new world really fascinates me. These landscapes have such deep implications in what I think of as American ideals and values from the religious implications to heroic myths. I love these ethereal, beautifully conveyed and executed works.

As for Hockney I love that his work is Pop Art but still has Expressionist elements. His California paintings created through photo collage of different images though various perspectives and even different times create a new narrative. I use this technique to create my own work. These brightly color blocked paintings are an inspiration to me as well. They are images that create a simplified view of the world.

The landscape evokes for me a kind of Western-style Dune, does it have any geographical locale for you, real or imagined?

The Landscapes are a mix or real and imagined places from cascading mountain ranges of the North American west to the Negev to Mykonos to views from Queenstown, New Zealand. I let my mind roam combining, editing and exaggerating different elements from my visual library. The list goes on and on to places I have traveled to, to places I have only read about and seen pictures of in National Geographic and on the internet to photos from friends excursions.

You mention combining the semi-real and semi-imagined as a key part of your work, could you talk a little more about the difference between these two qualities.

There is what we actually see which is reality, what every person views when they are looking–a single perspective, pavment as gray, the sky above and water as blue, and mountains as brown and green. Then there is the semi-imagined element. This comes from collaging multiple perspectives and playing with colors that are not considered natural to the places and elements I have in my paintings. These unnatural colors that I use in my paintings are actually part of nature for the most part, just pumped up. For example the browns we see in nature have purples in them. I like to pull elements like that out and intensify them or play off of them and use contrasting colors from what people actually see. The coloration in my paintings becomes synthetic representations of what is real. As the real and imagined are separate, they work hand in hand with the space and color, which narrows down what the viewer focuses on and what is actually going on; allowing for a clear feeling and emotional atmosphere.

I love that you are a diligent (perhaps obsessive) visual archivist; can you share some of your favorite images?

Yes I’m a bit obsessive about collecting and categorizing images. By nature I’m a squirrel. I probably save too much but I must have order in how I save. I used to collect everything from everywhere, never editing until there was no more room on shelves or places to store. This visual archive has satiated this need to save for future reference. There is one image which is a poster from the ’80s, I’m guessing of the U.S State trees, with Smokey the Bear on the bottom and a line reading "Be careful with our stately treasures." There are detailed drawings of each tree. I love this image and constantly use it as a reference. Another image I love, but haven’t utilized yet is a picture, I took in my wonderful home state of New Jersey of a car covered in carpet. My husband and I probably stood in this garage and just laughed for about 20 minutes before we could tear ourselves away.

Are there new ideas or materials that you’ve explored in your new show?

Technically, I have been focusing on toning it down, and tightening up the color range I am using in the new works. This is forcing me to slow down my process and make more concise decisions about what color comes next.  This forces me to work harder and to push values and tones in a smaller color spectrum. I am also  using iridescent paints sparingly in the new works, as they focus on mimicking light. It just seemed like a good fit and only enhances the effects I am going after.

You have a few passing references to keeping kosher and Israel – how do you feel that your Jewish identity has impacted your painting?

The fact that I like to reexamine the concept of signification in my work I feel is a product of my Jewish identity. Going back to what something might symbolize and having it in a different context alters its meaning. This idea I have been exploring seems like a metaphor to how I see my Jewish identity.  

As a young adult I do many of the rituals and traditions I grew up with but have my own twist on it, keeping tradition but making it my own. Things such as keeping kosher and even lighting the Shabbas candles have much more meaning to me at this point in my life because it is now my own identity, something I choose to do rather then just doing because that is what my parents did. They are the same acts in a different context as I am an adult now and genuinely mean much more to me at this stage in my life. 

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