Franz Kline

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Franz Kline (May 23, 1910 - May 13, 1962) was an American painter mainly associated with the Abstract Expressionist group which was centered, geographically, around New York, and temporally, in the 1940s and 1950s; but not limited to that setting. He was a close friend of Willem de Kooning.



Conversations With Artists, 1957[edit]

Conversations With Artists, Selden Rodman, 1957
  • I paint not the things I see but the feelings they arouse in me.
  • People sometimes think I take a white canvas and paint a black sign on it,but this is not true.I paint the white as well as the black and the white is just as important.
  • If I feel a painting I'm working on doesn't have imagery or emotion, I paint it out and work over it until it does.

Evergreen Review, 1958[edit]

Evergreen Review, vol. II, (no 6) autumn 1958, p. 11-15
  • In Braque and Gris, they seemed to have idea of the organization beforehand in their mind. With Bonnard, he is organizing in front of you. You can tell in Leger just when he discovered how to make it like an engine.. ..What's wrong with that? You see it in Barney (=Barnett Newman) too, that he knows what a painting should be. He paints as he thinks painting should be, which is pretty heroic..
  • If you're a painter, you are not alone. There's no way to be alone. You think and you care and you're with all the people who care. You think you care and you’re with all the people who care, including the young people who don’t know they do yet. Tomlin in his late paintings knew this, Jackson always knew it: that if you meant it enough..
  • When Jackson talked about painting he didn't usurp anything that wasn’t himself. He didn't want to change anything, he wasn't using any outworn attitude about it, he was always himself. He just wanted to be in it because he loved it. The response in the person's mind to that mysterious thing that has happened before has nothing to do with 'who did it first'. Tomlin however, did hear these voices and in reference to his early work and its relation to Braque, I like him for that. He was not an academician of Cubism even then; he was an extremely personal and sensitive artist.
  • You don't paint the way someone, by observing his life, thinks you have to paint, you paint the way you have to in order to give. That's life itself, and someone will look and say it is the product of knowing, but it has nothing to do with knowing, it has to do with giving. The question about knowing will naturally be wrong. When you've finished giving, the look surprises you as anyone else. Some painters talking about painting are like a lot of kids dancing at a prom. An hour later you are too shy to get out on the floor.


  • But I've noticed something with other artists who do use the whole range of forms of colours and black - in Albers, for instance, who experiments with yellow, red, blue, the whole scale. Of course I love his colour paintings, but when I see a black-and-white such as 'The Homage to a Black and White Square' [ Josef Albers painted more versions], I like that best, you know. I think it has something to do with deciding just exactly what you really like best. There is always that wonderful element of doubt. I like the black painters really, even if they did work in color.. .. Velasquez.. ..also Tintoretto, and Rembrandt.. .Goya..
    • interview (March 1960) with David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'Living Arts', Spring 1963; as cited in Interviews with American Artists, David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, pp. 61-62
  • The final test of painting, theirs, mine, any other, is; does the painter’s emotion comes across?.. ..Procedure is the keyword.. ..The difference is that we don't begin with a definite sense of procedure. It's free association from the start to the finished state. The old idea was to make use of your talent. This, we feel, is often to take the line of least resistance.. ..painters like Rothko, Pollock, Still, perhaps in reaction to the tendency to analyze which has dominated painting from Seurat to Albers, associate with very little analysis. A new form of expressionism inevitably followed. With De Kooning the procedure is continual change, and the immediacy of the change. With Jackson, it's the confidence you feel from the concentration of his energy in a given picture.. (1958)
    • Conversations with Artists, Seldon Rothman, New York Capricorn Books, 1961, p. 106 - 109: Talk ing about the Abstract expressionists
  • My old landscapes of Pennsylvania are worth so much now that I have to hide them, so I don't get put in an even higher tax bracket. For years nobody would pay a dime for them. They're still the same paintings. They didn't get any better. I treasure them as much as my recent black and white abstracts.. .My dealer was furious when I showed him my latest works. I'm returning to color. He tells me to ride it out and change when the fashion change. I told him no! I told him I paint each painting from the heart. I have followed my heart all my life. (1959)
    • speech in the jazz club The Five Spot, as quoted in Introduction by David Anram, The Stamp of Impulse, Abstract expressionist prints, David Anram, David Acton, p. 21

Talks with Seventeen Artists, 1962[edit]

Talks with Seventeen Artists, Katherine, New York, Harper and Row, 1962
  • I don't think of my work as calligraphic. Critics also describe Jackson and De Kooning as calligraphic painters but calligraphy has nothing to do with us. It's interesting that the Oriental critics never say this. The Oriental idea of space is an infinite space; it is not painted space, and ours is. In the first place, calligraphy is writing and I am not writing. People sometimes think I take a white canvas and paint a black sign on it, but this is not true. I paint the white as well as the black, and the white is just as important.
    • Quote, (1958)
  • There is imagery. Symbolism is a difficult idea. I'm not a symbolist. In other words, these are painting experiences. I don't decide in advance that am going to paint a definite experience, but in the act of painting, it becomes a genuine experience for me. It's not symbolism any more than it's calligraphy. I'm not painting bridge constructions, skyscrapers or laundry tickets.. ..I don't paint a given object – a figure or a table; I paint an organization that becomes a painting..'s not these things that get me started on a painting.
    • (1958)
  • I do both: I make preliminary drawings, other times I paint directly, other times I start a painting and then paint it out so that it becomes another painting or nothing at all. If a painting doesn't work, throw it out. When I work from preliminary sketches, I don't just enlarge these drawings, but plan my areas in a large painting by using small drawings for separate areas. I combine them in a final painting, often adding to or subtracting from the original sketches.. ..There are certain canvases here in my studio - the little one over there – that I've worked on for a good six months – painting most of it out and then painting it over and over again. I think I've got it now.
    • (1958)

Living Art, 1963[edit]

Living Art, vol. 1 (no. 1), David Sylvester, Spring 1963
  • Paint never seems to behave the same. Even the same paint doesn't, you know. In other words, if you use the same white or black or red, through the use of it, it never seems to be the same. It doesn't dry the same. It doesn't stay there and look at you the same way. Other things seem to affect it. There seems to be something that you can do so much with paint and after that you start murdering it..
    • n.p.
  • There are moments or periods when it would be wonderful to plan something and do it and have the thing only do what you planned to do, and then, there are other times when the destruction of those planned things becomes interesting to you. So then, it becomes a question of destroying – of destroying the planned forms; it's like an escape, it's something to do, something to begin the situation. You yourself, you don't decide, but if you want to paint, you have to find out some way to start this thing off, whether it is painting it out or putting it in..
    • n.p.
  •'s not an illusionistic thing. It just seems as though there are forms in some experience in your life that have an excitement for you.. ..those sort of forms in your experience do, in some way, not dominate, but they become the things that you are involved with. I don't mean that squares becomes windows; after all, squares becomes heads, they becomes everything you know. I don't mean it in that sense. A curve or line or rhythmical relation do have, in some way, some psychological bearing, not only on the person who looks at them after they've been conceived but also they do have a lot to do with the creative being who is involved with wondering just how exiting it can be..
    • n.p.
  • I think that if you use long lines, they become – what could they be? The only thing they could be is either highways or architecture or bridges.
    • n.p.
  • ... as a matter of fact it is nice to paint a happy picture after a sad one. I think there is a kind of loneliness in a lot of them which I don't think about as the fact that I'm lonely and therefore I paint lonely pictures, but I like kind of lonely things anyhow; so if the forms express that to me, there is a certain excitement that I have about that.. ..What I try to do is to create the painting so that the overall thing has the particular emotion; not just the forms in it.. other words, there's a particular static or heavy form that can have a look to it, an experience that translated through the form; so then it does have a mood. And when that is there, well then it becomes it becomes a painting whereas all the other pictures that have far more interesting shapes and so on, don't become that to me.
    • n.p.
  • I rather feel that painting is a form of drawing and the painting that I like has a form of drawing to it. I don't see how it could be disassociated from the nature of drawing.. ..I find in many cases a drawing has been the subject of the painting – that would be a preliminary stage to that particular painting.. ..the painting can develop something that is not at all related to the drawing and have no particular mood about it at all; it's just a cool kind of reality that has a series of involvements within it; and the pure excitement of those things happening within this form is enough for that particular panting..
    • n.p.
  • Some of the pictures I work on a long time and they look as if I've knocked them out, you know, and there are other pictures that come off right away. The immediacy can be accomplished in a picture that's been worked on for a long time just as well as if it's been done rapidly, you see. But I don't find that any of these things prove anything really.
    • n.p.

Quotes about Franz Kline[edit]

  • Kline frequently spoke of a painting as a 'situation', and of the first strokes of paint on canvas as 'the beginning of the situation'. When painting, he said, he tried to rid his mind of everything else and 'attack it completely from that situation'. The real criterion was the feeling a given work conveyed: 'The final test of a painting, theirs [that of artists he admired, such as w:Daumier, mine, or any other, is: does the painter's emotion come across?'
    • [w:Edward Lucie-Smith|Edward Lucie-Smith]], quote from Lives of the Great 20th-Century Artists, 1999
  • Franz Kline was a squat, muscular man with powerful arms, a thin mustache and expressive, sloping eyebrows gathered at the center of his forehead. 'Painters seldom spoke to each other about art,' my father [ Philip Guston ] said; but once, in an easy and light bar conversation, Kline offered this: 'The real thing about creating is to have the capacity to be embarrassed.' And he [Kline] gave one of the better definitions of painting: 'Painting,' Franz said, 'is like hand-stuffing a mattress.'
    • Philip Guston', My Father, Musa Mayer; New York Times, August 7, 1988; adapted from Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston by His Daughter, by Musa Mayer, to be published by Alfred A. Knopf Inc. in September 1988

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