Artists are able to pull inspiration in all types of different things. For University of Wisconsin masters of fine arts student Mariah Tate Klemens, inspiration comes from her obsession with finding ways to embody memories and nostalgia through domestic objects.
“I make art because I have to. I am compelled to make things so I must,” Klemens eloquently stated.
Klemens finds inspiration from the sentimentality in old country music and contemporary pop songs, but mostly from her own personal feelings and emotions. She creates pieces to help capture those aspects as well as memories. The goal of most of her pieces is to have viewers share her feelings and understand why she feels that way.
Klemens was interested in art from a young age, but wasn’t always sure how she wanted to incorporate that interest into her life.
“When I was finishing up high school, I was considering being a P12 art education teacher … once I got to college and started to learn about contemporary art and I realized that I definitely wanted to pursue that as my career,” Klemens said.
She grew up in Issaquah, Washington and got her Bachelor of Arts as well as her Bachelor of Fine Arts and art teaching certificate at Western Washington University in Bellingham. After graduation, she moved to Guadalajara, Mexico to teach art at an elementary school and work as an artist in residence at an architecture university.
After returning to the U.S., she moved back to the northwest living in both Bellingham and Portland. While there, she did a lot of work in collaboration with painter Jackson Hunt.
“He and I would present monochromatic shows based on a color to try and unpack what that color meant to us,” Klemens said.
Klemens makes use of everyday and domestic objects to create sculptures and portray feelings everyone can relate to, such as nostalgia and lost love. She believes her work can function as stand-ins for people or as outward expressions for her own emotions.
When Klemens begins a new project, she starts by finding an idea and matching it with an object to represent it. From there, she likes to sketch or paint the piece before trying to find the right materials to produce a structure.
Her last show, “At Last and Still Too Soon,” is the complete embodiment of that idea of nostalgia, the inspiration for the show coming from memories and people she has known. The pieces land somewhere in between the stand-ins or the outward expressions she mentioned.
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“The tentative postures of the objects suggest their struggle,” Klemens said.
Most of her current art is white, which follows the monochromatic theme from her time in Portland. Klemens describes that she is drawn to the vacancy allowed in the blank color.
The work lets viewers project their thoughts and feeling onto the art itself. She leaves her work mostly open-ended as to make people feel something and relate it to their own lives.
A piece that functions completely in the realm of human stand-in is her piece “Baby Love.”
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“I was thinking alot about the inability for someone to function in ways that they would want to,” Klemens said.
This piece, specifically, is a portrait of a person Klemens knows. It is a rubber trampoline that is unable to hold its own weight and therefore, cannot function and can barely even exist.
Another one of her favorites is called “Please.” It is a radiator with, as Klemens puts it, “a never drying sock” on top of it. The radiator, similarly to “Baby Love,” is unable to function as it is meant to.
Klemens chose UW for her MFA at the advice of one undergraduate professor who had attended the university. Not only did he promote the the program himself, but also he often brought in other MFA Badgers who did. An artist by the name of Ben Buswell had a profound impact. The way he talked about his work and wanted to study where he had intrigued Klemens even though he had never traveled to the Midwest before starting the program.
Before starting at UW, she was used to making sculptures in her house. When she started the program, she was able to have a studio space that granted her the ability to produce pieces on a much larger scale. She also credits the program with giving her a group of peers and professors to help develop her art, giving her different ideas of how to approach object making.
Klemens is currently showing her work at the Charles Allis Museum in Milwaukee. She collaborated with artist James Pederson for this exhibition, called “Clandestine Possessions,” in which they created domestic objects that will eventually be integrated into the museum’s permanent collection.
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As Klemens is in her second year of earning her MFA, she is currently in the middle of her MA show, which is a halfway point for students in the program. She is showing her professors and peers her “At Last But Still Too Soon” exhibition. She will have to answer questions from committee members and submit a written thesis.
Students in the program typically hold a showcase during their second year to earn their Master of Arts. In the end of her third year, Klemens will have a bigger show — the final step in earning the master of fine arts.