A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

“Luscious didn’t get me” – Nick Klein and the Search for Sincerity Amidst Unbearable Heartache

Image courtesy of Nick Klein.

We sat at a table outside a bar whose walls on the inside were layered with crappy, faux-punk ephemera. A tall, hatted man in grey mounted his motorcycle and kick started it, letting out a squall that turned all patrons’ swimming heads. He sat there solemnly, his eyes fixed on the bar’s entrance. “I feel that guy’s pain,” Nick started. “It sucks to be that guy when everybody’s looking at you.” This surprised me, you’d think most bikers would relish in this display? “Nah. It’s different when you’re cruising by. But waiting for someone like that and disturbing everyone and being super noticed for it, that’s some Freudian shit that’ll fuck with your head.

Nicholas Barry Klein was born in Lake Worth, Florida on September 22nd, 1987 and has lived in Miami since 2008. His work includes sculpture, painting, performance, sound, and combinations thereof. A New World School of the Arts dropout, Klein has worked as a studio assistant at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery and Locust Projects, had a solo show at Chris Miro gallery, and is currently one of 46 artists showing in Salon de Notre Societe, a group show at Primary Projects. The East-facing windows of his studio at the Wahab Construction building off Calle Ocho offer a view of the top halves of Brickell’s buildings and I-95. Presently he’s working on several paintings, music projects, and selling the majority of his possessions so that he can move to New York City. Over the course of several weeks, Klein and I spent time talking and exchanging emails and texts about the difficulty of working with explosives, space highways, and the ‘one thing you can’t not do.’

Klein’s art in physical mediums is spare, both in number and characteristically. His sculptures are crude and can seem like unfinished construction projects. Recent paintings include triangular, monochromatic abysses and inchoate scrawls. The imagery is both product of, and response to, the limited resources of a young, broke artist. It’s reactionary to the privilege of art making, as Klein references his spray-painted plywood panels as ‘fake fine art.’ In some ways (many if you think that the following is generally true) the ideas are more important than the objects. The following is Klein’s artist’s statement for Primary Projects, which was never used:

“You spend time in the studio researching the contradictions of human creative output over the history of man and end up distracted. You spend time at the McDonalds on South Beach – both of them – at two or three in the morning every couple of evenings to re-evaluate your perception of how you stand up in the city you live in. You make it a point to not answer the phone, someone promises you money, someone promises you not enough money, and someone else promises you nothing. You work in galleries or you don’t work in galleries to solidify an angle that people can pull at you from. Your friends try to save you and find you work in retail; you work construction for their fathers companies, you call your Dad to see if he has any connections to anyone. You romanticize your friendships; nobody calls unless they want to smoke. You take the money from the jobs you flake on and you buy as much paint as you can and fill your lungs up with the aerosol and get existential. Your narcissism engulfs your practice and you don’t hang around the studio so much anymore. You’re at the McDonalds again, or the Checkers, and the phone is ringing and you get a voicemail from somebody who used to work with somebody else and they tell you this and that and you go back to the studio and somebody really ‘gets’ something in the work. You make a bunch of garbage that you know is garbage and think maybe people will buy so you can get out of Miami and no matter what you do, the joke is on you. Poor thing.”

Image courtesy of Zack Balber.

Image courtesy of Zack Balber.

Conversationally, Klein moves between dead-serious assertions and humor that can be both self-flagellating and corrosive. He’s a cherubic, self-professed Homer Simpson who has no qualms with admitting to his flaws, or with declaring the moral and/or aesthetic bankruptness of certain others. He rails hard against careerists that seem bent on selfish advancement. “The tendency for people [in the art world] is to analyze how you will play into their upward mobility.” The social atmospherics of the Miami art world come under Nick’s radar as well. “Often I am naive and want to make friends and pick brains, but I learned after the last few years not to expect people to acknowledge you after meeting them, or that they’ll look you in the eyes during conversation.” With Nick, the realness begins immediately and is relentless, but he maintains a composure that is measured and well articulated, most of the time.

Image courtesy of Nick Klein,

Klein makes his concerns with the relationship between art and wealth very clear.  When I asked him, mostly for the effect of his response, what purpose art serves in people’s lives, he said, “The audience is beholden to its broader interests beyond merely looking at art. A million shitty galleries exist in Wynwood and four, maybe five, I personally care to see. Mega rich collectors hold personal shrines to their leisure capital investments and everyone seems to love going to them. I don’t know what purpose it serves in people’s lives.” While he may be too quick to generalize, he’ll contrarily admit to the necessity of $$$ in simply surviving, and in creating things that have a transformative, redeeming impact on a usually and rightfully depressed human spirit.

Image courtesy of the author.

Image courtesy of the author.

Image courtesy of the author.

Klein’s recent sculptures and paintings reflect these weary, critical views and openly mock the art market that he needs one foot in. But when you compare his visual work to his performance and music, you get a sense of the shuttling between hopeless cynicism and the positive, head-above-water thinking that’s going on in Klein’s head.  His performances have a grace that testifies to the influence of his parents, both of whom are artists that “revel in the athleticism of dance.” His boditude is hulking but with a subtle elegance, he’s a big dude with studly poise and a deep sense of rhythm. This doesn’t only come off during performance, it’s apparent in his general affect. There’s an ambient awareness of the self – a stoically straight posture, the big breaths and shakes of the head before he speaks his mind – yet it doesn’t come off as a front[i].

This consciousness of the body is not only a confidence-booster; it’s also a curse. On one of our first meetings, we talked about the reality of each of us having a parent that’s experienced a serious stroke (his mom, my dad) who was then radically altered by it. This carries over into his work, and he said that he “thinks about the body breaking down, and letting that be broadly metaphorical and insightful.”

Video courtesy of the author.

Klein’s favorite book is ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life,’ the holy writ of keeping a fiercely independent, punk-historical ethos about music. He regularly plays as an auxiliary percussionist for Cop City/Chill Pillars, who’ll be releasing their highly anticipated follow-up to the lauded Held Hostage on Planet Chill, titled Hosed. It builds on the band’s wonky creepery and sounds like little else Out There. Klein also beats the tubs for Universal Expansion, a free funkadelia outfit also set to release a full-length.

Besides his involvement in more formal bands, Klein also produces solo work as Nick Klein. He just finished recording a split with the Miami-based, dreaded techno phenom Dim Past. Klein’s noisy and highly-danceable loops fit snugly against DP’s cold, bleeping elucidations and warm oceanic pulses. His palatable enthusiasm for these projects illustrates the fact that music seems to be the thing that keeps him from staring at the darkness for too long.

Image courtesy of Lazaro Rodriguez.

He enjoys living at General Practice (a nearly windowless spooker of a house in Little Haiti that functions as a gallery and show space, which hosts some of the most paradoxically best yet worst parties in the city) and says that he’s “been able to work through a lot of ideas outside of a commercial or academic context because of it.” I asked Carlos Rigau, who runs the space, what he thought of him, and he remarked on Klein’s inability to do the dishes and take out the trash. To which, Klein retorted, “FUCK YOU, I TAKE OUT THE TRASH ALL THE TIME.”

Image courtesy of the author.

Klein is leaving Miami for New York at the end of the month. About this, he said that he’s “going to New York City to see more things in life. It’s a little cliché and annoying to make the pilgrimage up there for a new life. If I don’t like being up there, I will just be somewhere else soon.” He’s uncertain about his future, but assured in what he wants.

“If people have ambition and are into the careerist approach, then at my age and level of participation, I have nothing that I can say that really matters. What I do notice though is a trend throughout history of artists just being in the studio or applying the practice of their work to whichever contexts they need to, and if done honestly, and well enough, trends eventually will sway to where your work can fit. I would like to do whatever I have to do to be able to continue making work, so long as I never have to compromise my interest in making work in the first place. What will make me happy is to eventually just have a stable place to make work from as years go on. Maybe people will like it, and most times, chances are they won’t. I will be happy securely making things and figuring out new ideas for myself.”

Nick described his own artistic process as a stumbling toward conclusions. He makes plain the need that people have for some sort of distraction, no matter what it has to be, from the radiating pain that will surface too often if not tended to. That deep-rooted tyranny of feeling out of control, you could call it. His work and words address the tedium of working within your interests and among others who share those interests, and the back-and-forth sorts of feelings that come with that[.]

The Struggle of Working Within the Confines of Your Own Head, courtesy of the author and Nick Klein.

[i] Sure, we all have our moments of frontin, but his criticism of others and of things in general often sit next to self-decrying, deprecating criticisms of himself. Though one can never be sure of true intentions and the sincerity of another (especially in professional settings), it seems that this is not just a rhetorical maneuver for legitimizing himself. Put another way, it’s not that he talks shit, it’s that he has a near-pathological honesty that’s actually quite refreshing. Unless of course, you’re on the wrong side of it, in which case, it sucks to be you.


This post was contributed by Rob Goyanes, winner of the Miami Writer’s Prize 2012.


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“Luscious didn’t get me” – Nick Klein and the Search for Sincerity Amidst Unbearable Heartache