Moselle Kleiner is an extremely talented young artist, currently a senior at the Ramaz Upper School, where she devotes most of her extracurricular hours to the arts. Her artistic work fuses scholarship with experimentation, drawing on the oeuvres of artists from de Kooning to Schiele to Julia Margaret Cameron. Upon entering 9th grade, she was selected for an Honors Circle mentorship program with a specific concentration in art history, a distinction that has been renewed each year.
On weekends she devotes her time to helping out families at the Jewish Museum or attending exhibitions at any one of New York’s fine arts institutions.
Her work has been recognized by Columbia Scholastic Press and the Alliance of Artists and Writers. Moselle’s other interests include international relations, securities studies, and political science.
Interview with Artist Moselle Kleiner
NY Elite: Tell us a little about yourself and your career beginnings.
Moselle Kleiner: I am seventeen and living in New York, where I will soon be graduating from high school. I have been engaged in the arts since I was small, whether through my own work or by traveling to fairs, visiting museums and galleries, or going on studio visits. These early childhood explorations spurred an abiding love for the visual world that has endowed me with the drive to develop my passion for art even further as I reach adulthood. I mostly do mixed-media paintings, although I dabble in photography and video.
NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Moselle Kleiner: At the moment, I am building my portfolio through a few different projects somewhat vaguely intertwined. In terms of actual art, I am working towards a group show that is happening in June where I will have my own wall and additional space to display pieces, which I’m very excited about. It’s definitely pressuring and I’m at the point where I have several giant paintings that I need to wrap up and about three others to start.
I typically move quite quickly but these paintings demand extra time because my technique is more complex: I start with an oil base, add glue, wait for the layers to dry, then peel them back, add ink, and again manipulate the surface. This method I’m refining––which is by no means a new one––requires a great deal of patience, although the outcome is worth it. There is nothing like the feeling of staring at a finished piece with the satisfaction of having bested your internal demons. It sounds rather banal because it’s true. In the words of Leslie Fiedler, ubi morbus, ibi digitus––where there’s an itch, you’ll find a finger. Such is the case with art-making: the evaporation of the unsettled verve that compels one’s hand to the page marks a piece’s completion. Lead-ups are agonizing and endings never entirely reassuring but so it goes. One learns to live with the chronic nausea.
Besides all this, I am putting together a literary magazine, entailing many weeks of organizing student illustrations and photography on inDesign; producing essays for my blog, molapola.com, which chronicles my ongoing interactions with museums, galleries, and art fairs across the globe; and assembling episodes for a video series inspired by the Met’s Artist Project where my classmates discuss their favorite works. This latter venture is likely the most ambitious––and enriching––of the three. What could be more fun than bringing people to museums and holding court? They often surprise me in their decisions and explanations.
I enjoy hearing why a Van Eyck or a Bonnard or a hotel suite has become important to an individual, typically at random. These talks also expand the scope of my practice. I leave meditative, realigned in my thinking. I become more reflective, permitting what I do some legitimacy, having reexamined its potential power. Who can anticipate what might be treasured? Seeing art with someone is an intimate act. Rapture, sorrow, and revulsion go undisguised. This kind of exposure breeds tremendous vulnerability, from which emerges rapport, a mutual understanding. Like Wall Street, art trades in bonds.
NY Elite: What art do you most identify with?
Moselle Kleiner: Probably that of sufferers. I do not care for propagating personal victimhood narratives, yet my attraction to pieces in which pain is plain remains unwavering. The parameters of this genre are rather wide, encompassing everyone from Artemesia Gentileschi to Goya to Van Gogh to Kollwitz to Frank Auerbach to Joan Mitchell to Louise Bourgeois to Francesca Woodman to Kara Walker. I love the rawness of their work and crave it for my own. They render anguish organically beautiful without ever being fetishistic. Gustav Metzger is a forceful paradigm for the aesthetics of grief.
Having come to England on the kindertransport, an orphaned Metzger studied under David Bomberg and devised Auto-Destructive art, engineering self-eating matter that symbolized mankind’s violent tendencies. Surrounded by neo-Cubists, he was exceptional. At the risk of betraying my intergenerational trauma, I confess an utter fascination with Metzger. He harnessed the scarring adversities he faced to become not just a witness but a storyteller. The resulting art is exquisitely poignant, his chemical slashes scream like seared souls.
NY Elite: What themes do you pursue?
Moselle Kleiner: Having experienced a traumatic brain injury this past year, my work primarily focuses on communicating the monumental emotional and physical agony of this event through abstraction (this hopefully gives some background to my last response). Large-scale images actualize and obscure forms from my EEG scans, maps of my brain that depict which areas are activated and dictate what needs to be adjusted. Going to neurofeedback, I observe the arc of my recovery through these pictures. With this therapy a weekly rehashing of the immediate damage, my brainwave activity bared for all to see, I become an open book, again dependent, weak, no more than a specimen.
Art is a conduit for repossession of self. Pieces are constructed in a variety of mediums, conveying through an unraveling and layering of chaotic, biomorphic, Arpian shapes the potency of my daily afflictions. Texture is critical: I like being surprised by what happens. Separate from these are collages that conjoin disparate elements from art history.
NY Elite: What’s your favorite art work?
Moselle Kleiner: I am very mercurial with regard to aesthetic preferences. My choice could be anything, more evolutionary than fixed. But if I had to suggest a specific “totem” that I will always return to, a muse, really, I would say Monet’s poplars, or “The Four Trees” (1891). It’s an obvious, even lazy pick but I can’t ignore its visceral effect on me. Every time I behold his glowing contours I verge on crying. It’s a connection that is rare but necessary; I have it with Rothko, as well. Monet paintings are simultaneously primitive and intricate, thus achieving sublimity. He is very Rousseau-esque that way, although most superb work is paradoxical by nature. And of course there’s his installation at Musee de l’Orangerie. After that, all other art is superfluous.
NY Elite: Tells us about some of your recent exhibitions. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Moselle Kleiner: So far, I have received scattered compliments from peers and teachers during critiques but nothing too dramatic. There have been prizes but those hold little weight beyond providing immediate, superficial validation. I consider my art to still be in its embryonic stage, not yet fully prepared for official viewing.
NY Elite: Tell us about one of your projects which you are very proud of.
Moselle Kleiner: I would say that my blog, molapola.com, is one of my more significant endeavors. I founded the site in the spring of my freshman year to record my journey as a teenager in love with art. It began when I was thirteen and has grown with me (an understatement, really). Writing habitually has certainly helped to clarify my voice as a future critic and while that may sound cavalier or facetious, it has never been easy. I am a shy, introverted person and it took years before I felt comfortable to really promote what I do, especially as it is mine alone to market.
When I was a sophomore, I co-founded a school magazine which became, to an extent, my life, a reason to breath and function in the morning. It interpolated cultural commentary on exhibitions, plays, films, and books with photo-essays and student spotlights. I spent hundreds of hours perfecting each issue, beginning with selecting an overarching theme, brainstorming its every aspect, and then producing the whole journal. I recruited reporters, photographers, models, and a small editorial staff, but the onus mainly fell on me to mine the masses for gems and carve out a sincere, pertinent body of work. And I was grateful: this was my ticket out of the reticence that had governed my existence up until then. We did crazy, unorthodox features: interviews with artists like Richard Prince and shoots at local monuments. However exhausted I might be, I felt exhilarated, and better yet, intellectually rewarded.
Since leaving the paper, I have broadened my own undertakings, absorbed in making art and advancing molapola. These are equally noble schemes, but it is nonetheless harder to go at it on one’s own. Yet I continue publishing and pondering and diversifying. A recent string of articles about contemporary curators has gained some traction, but I’ve been busy and somehow wound up on hiatus. I have to get back in it. Ultimately the impetus to work outlasts whatever residual juvenile anxieties I might have. Desperation inevitably prevails. The need to be out there is brazenly transcendent.
NY Elite: What does “being creative” mean to you?
Moselle Kleiner: Creativity is an elusive concept in that it can be both a means and an end. Questions arise from even casual, highly reductionist definitions describing creativity as the practical application of original ideas: is it then intrinsic to a person or endemic to his environment? How does one authenticate it? Why is it helpful? How can it be cultivated? Seeking out “creative solutions” numbers among the top goals of those who lead our present digital zeitgeist. How many tech companies list it in their mission statements? Yet can possession of technical ability be equated or conflated with one’s creativity? Where do we draw the line?
Artists have debated the value of tools over product for millennia. There is little radical about embracing creativity now. It has been reduced to a classic trope, a social currency utilized for purporting oneself as an innovator, a pioneer of “change.” But art is simulation in the same vein, amounting to empty echoes or evocations. It is a pursuit grounded in the allure of pretending: at its core illusory, a shallow conjuring of senses. Art contains two realities, both subject and object. Think “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” Chagall’s dreamscapes, de Chirico, Mexican Surrealism. Look at David Salle, Barbara Hepworth, Barbara Kruger, Vito Acconci. Vastly dissimilar in style but they share a memorialization or breakdown of time and space. Like them, I just use what I’ve got. So much for “appropriation”: repurposing is the backbone of innovation.
NY Elite: What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Moselle Kleiner: I am in the studio for about 3 hours total each day and my approach is fairly consistent: I tend to work vigorously for about 10 minutes, step back, repeat this cycle over a half-hour period, take a break, study the piece for a while without touching it, then start fussing some more. It’s definitely a mind game, but unlike with writing, I just go straight for the page. I’m not afraid of making marks, only ruining good ones. I end up juggling two or three paintings at the same time and often side “assignments,” as well. I try to give myself weekly challenges, which either come to revolutionize my work or have no lasting gravity whatsoever.
Deadlines are vital as I usually drag things out: whether I am savoring the process or retreating from it is always unclear. If I’m in the mood, I will listen to Seventies and Eighties music from the Police or Bowie while I paint. I am a morning person but I also have my lunch in the studio so I can dedicate the time I have left afterwards to the art. I’ll eat staring at a canvas trying to decide what’s next. It’s a system for channeling my obsessive enthusiasm into calm restraint and so far it’s been okay. Still, perfectionist impulses frequently overtake my pieces; I tell myself that’s what keeps it mine. Anyhow I’m in good company here, with Degas and Bacon and so on. Both of them were utter purists. They would sooner have their artworks burn than surrender them to shoddiness.
NY Elite: What are you trying to communicate with your art?
Moselle Kleiner: Do I have a message? I only ask that viewers to spend at least a decent two minutes with my art and glean from it what they will. I don’t want empathy, just brief heed. Setting standards low is how you grab them.
NY Elite: What role does the Artist have in Society?
Moselle Kleiner: This is an excellent question for which I have no straight answer; in fact, it has only prompted more doubts. Such as: is the Artist a prophet substitute? An extra parent? A supplemental guiding force? A friend? I believe an Artist is obliged to his craft and nothing else. It is we who must stay loyal to him. Without work, he is nothing. Without him, so are we. A symbiotic relationship.
NY Elite: What are your thoughts on being an artist in today’s world?
Moselle Kleiner: Masochism has always been at the root of art-making, nowadays to an exaggerated degree. I am constantly deluged with source materials, yet there is no room for nostalgia, only perseverance. Near-universal access to art from across the globe is a convoluted spoil of our internet age: Artsy, Wikipedia, Google, Instagram, Youtube––these data repositories have facilitated my discovery of Marcos Grigorian, Christian Boltanski, Kirchner, Sigmar Polke, such that where would I be otherwise? And yet, this leaves me redundant.
Artists must practice within the tradition of their forebears, but what happens when these ancestors proceed to be regnant and relevant on an unprecedented scale: does one abandon ship? No. Instead, we become cartographers charting this brave, new ahistorical realm. Formerly the hidden underpinnings for artworks by the educated, distortions of the past are now worthy studies on their own. With postmodern pastiches primed for self-insertion, the opportunities are legion. And at some interval, politics factors in (see Andrea Bowers).
NY Elite: How has painting influenced your life?
Moselle Kleiner: Painting is our oldest language, preceding even cuneiform. Accordingly, I am a mere communicator, “translating” or “transcribing” my encounters through my work. How, then, could it not mean the world to me? As there is nothing else quite like beholding a small Picasso on a rainy afternoon. The memory will endure for eternity. It becomes your very sustenance, the key to survival.
NY Elite: What kind of art is unappealing to you?
Moselle Kleiner: Conceptual work that elicits no instinctual reaction––except maybe revulsion––but not even an admittance of skill. Kienholz, for example, is someone I can still appreciate without guttaral attachment. So too with Sol Lewitt, Joseph Beuys, Malevich, and Rudchenko. Sarah Lucas I secretly like, yet I struggle to be galvanized by Koons, Hirst, or Wool.
NY Elite: What art movement or artist would you say influences your work most?
Moselle Kleiner: Probably Abstract-Expressionism, Printmaking, and Old Master portraiture. They are hegemonic for a reason. Arte Povera has been another crucial influence: Lucio Fontana, Marisa Merz, Jannis Kounellis, Pistoletto. They bank on the pull of anarchy. Then there’s Twombly, Bacci, Zao Wou-Ki. Eva Hesse, Ruth Asawa. Maria Lassnig, Agnes Martin, Franz Marc, Sargent. Albertos Burri and Giacometti are Italian treasures. Yves Klein, and lately, Tala Madani. I learned light from Vermeer, Hammershoi, and Munch; geometry via Piero della Francesca. Physics is besides the point.
NY Elite: What can we expect from you in 2017?
Moselle Kleiner: More of everything. Aside from catalyzing my social media presence, I am going to be constructing a new website dedicated exclusively to my artwork. You can also expect a surge in molapola content of the serious cerebral strain, so look out for future items on art world events! Additionally, my Artist Project video series will be up online this coming June.
NY Elite: Can you share with us three favorite things about your city/culture?
Moselle Kleiner: A native New Yorker, I have been energized since infancy by the dynamic cultural climate of my hometown. A beloved spot is the Asian wing at the Met, the rooms of which provide a perfect respite from hectic urban life in their profound tranquility (the Frick is good for this, too). Filled with splendid tapestries, prints, furniture, and screens, these wood-paneled passages transport you to a calm, exotic climate, like a mini vacation; there is a particularly special Noguchi garden off to one side.
Elsewhere in the museum are restored Louis Quatorze chambers, lavish and divine, and a replicated plaza from Granada. The whole building has become my personal sanctuary. When I was very small, I would recite Ozymandias standing before the Temple of Dendur just prior to the start Passover. Art offers little if not freedom and redemption, the Met in its bureaucratic staidness a fitting place to start. MAD, of course, is a lesser-known darling; the Guggenheim, Whitney, and MoMA PS1 are other favorites. And I will never pass up the option of an excursion to Strand or a walk through the Village. The best thing to do when unoccupied is wander.
NY Elite: What social media can your fans follow you? Where can one order copies/prints of your work?
You can follow my work through my Instagram page, @mosellie, which is mostly an archive of imagery I find compelling or that is somehow contemporary. I stopped using Twitter but molapola is on facebook. Copies or prints are not yet available, although that is a goal! Contact me by email: email@example.com.