Ted Kliman, 79

Artist Explored Questions About Life's Meaning

Greenbelt artist Ted Kliman often infused Christian and Jewish imagery in his works. He was best known for his paintings of draped cloth.
Greenbelt artist Ted Kliman often infused Christian and Jewish imagery in his works. He was best known for his paintings of draped cloth. (By Rafael Crisostomo For The Washington Post)
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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ted Kliman, 79, a Greenbelt artist whose oil paintings, drawings, etchings and watercolors were infused with imagery from Judaism and Christianity and whose best-known works are paintings of draped cloth, died Feb. 16 at Holy Cross Hospital of congestive heart failure.

Mr. Kliman was an educational and industrial filmmaker for 20 years before picking up a paintbrush at 45. Accepted into the Maryland Institute College of Art, he received a master of fine arts degree in 1979, immersed himself in art history and began exploring questions of life's meaning through his work.

"Some people search for the infinite," Mr. Kliman told The Washington Post in 2001. "They look to God by fasting and prayer. I search with my painting. Can a painting be a prayer?"

When he read "The Metaphysics of Cloth," an essay by Polish-born painter Ewa Kuryluk that explores Leonardo da Vinci's drapery studies, he found inspiration for what became black and white depictions of faceless, bodiless cloth that suggest human figures.

He had been working with drapery for several years in his former Baltimore studio, where he painted realistic works using a director's chair, drapery and shadows.

A professor challenged him to experiment with surrealistic techniques using the same elements. After reading Kuryluk's essay, he took his Jewish prayer shawl, draped it over a flexible mannequin and created a drawing called "Leonardo's Tallit."

Soon he was creating large paintings of cloth, which, by folding into soft, undulant swaths, he transformed into something almost tactile, lifelike.

The empty shawls had Hebrew and Yiddish lettering on them, and some referred to the Holocaust with names such as "Shoah Triptych" and "The Dance of Death." Later, he incorporated Christian icons into the shawls. He called them "The Lamentation Series."

"I think that what he is doing is much deeper than he is able to articulate in words," said Deborah Sokolove, curator at Washington's Wesley Theological Seminary Dadian Gallery, in a 2004 Post article. "It's there in the paintings. It is very evocative. There are very strong statements about absence and presence. They are filtered through his Jewish experience, but they are very universal."

Theodore Elwood Kliman was born in Philadelphia. He served in the Army during the Korean War and played minor league baseball before receiving a bachelor's degree in English from Penn State University in 1954.

Before launching his career as an artist, he spent nearly two decades making educational films at Virginia Tech and other universities and industrial films for a company in Baltimore.

He had artistic inclinations from an early age. He told his son Todd Kliman that he had drawn comic books as a youngster and was crushed when his mother threw away what she called his "scribbling pictures." He painted for a couple of years on the side before he enrolled at the Maryland Institute.

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