Exercises in contrasts: Kleberg provides color commentary

An openness to asking is something to admire in young artists. Unburdened by reviews (whether good or bad) and still free from the angst of needing to make “what sells,” they take risks and visually play with ideas simply to see what happens. Some experiments are more successful than others, but the energy of exploration courses through and enlivens their work.

Case in point: Matt Kleberg, whose large oil-on-canvas paintings currently hang at a new West Main Street Gallery in an exhibition called “Ordinary Time.” A 2008 University of Virginia graduate, Kleberg stood out in the McGuffey Art Center’s 2011 “New Members Show,” where he impressed with vivid colors and rapid-fire, intuitive brushwork. Kleberg has included several of the McGuffey pieces in “Ordinary Time,” and it’s interesting to compare that work with his most recent paintings.

 Kleberg continues to explore the effect of dividing compositions into sections, but in his latest work, he plays with contrasts—blurring the line between abstraction and representation, and experimenting with color blocks and geometry. Inspired by incidents in which usually benign natural forces have caused havoc, he works through ways of juxtaposing containment and chaos. 

 At the center of Kleberg’s “Arkansas Blackbirds,” an open-hatched yellow car sits in a blue industrial garage, its taillights toward the viewer, as a nearby figure mops between two ramps. Kleberg has refined his brushwork in this section but utilizes quick and intuitive strokes for a swampy area below and a roiling yellow sky above. An interesting innovation is Kleberg’s use of parallel vertical lines to connect the three sections; a symmetrical series of black stripes descend into the garage from the sky, while shorter white stripes, arranged in shapes that echo the ramps’ contours, rise from the bottom. 

Kleberg delves further into geometric abstraction in “Louisana,” his largest and least successful piece. A textured expanse of cerulean blue, punctuated by a square of olive green, occupies two-thirds of the canvas. In contrast, the remaining third is a cacophony of multicolored strokes suggesting tangled woods. Far stronger is Kleberg’s use of color blocking and geometry in “Mississippi, the Damned,” in which he juxtaposes a contained pool of emerald green water surrounded by gray concrete arches, with edge-to-edge ochre floodwaters engulfing rectangular gray roofs and green treetops.

Even when Kleberg’s compositional experiments miss the mark, they are always intriguing. For Kleberg, a correct answer is less interesting than posing and examining a question.

Matt Kleberg’s exhibition, “Ordinary Time,” is on view through August 31 at JohnSarahJohn, 505 W. Main St. 989-2456.