Canvas Considerations | Behind the Canvas with Jim Klein

“A painted surface is a real, living form.”

― Kazimir Severinovich Malevich, Russian avant-garde artist and art theorist


Did you know there’s more to consider when choosing a canvas to paint than simply the size? Abstract artist Jim Klein discusses the difference between painting on primed canvas and raw canvas.

What is raw canvas and why is it different?

Jim: Canvas is usually coated with a primer called gesso. The gesso seals the canvas and allows the paint to sit on top of the material without absorbing into it. Without this gesso coating, canvas is just cotton or linen fabric that is very porous. The gesso fills in the fibers and gives a nice coating over the canvas which you then paint on top.

Painting on canvas without the gesso coating is called a raw canvas and it’s a very different experience. I’m quite intrigued by it. Especially with highly diluted paints, it’s very noticeable when the paint runs and drips in interesting ways.

It’s very exciting and provides new ways to present richer color, as well as more dimension and depth in the artwork.

Have visitors noticed any difference in raw canvas paintings?

Jim: I hear from many people visiting the Art Factory and the J Klein Gallery that they love the paintings: they marvel at the color and brightness in the gallery, but once the paintings are viewed online, the vibrancy is somewhat lost.

When you photograph a painting and share it online, everyone is viewing it on a different screen. Unfortunately, most computer or phone monitors aren’t optimized to represent color as it appears in real-life.

Because of this, many paintings don’t hold their vibrancy when viewed online, especially those that have a lot of blue in them. However, we have noticed artwork on raw canvas don’t seem to lose their “digital vibrancy” to the degree that those on a regular, coated canvas might. I think this is due to the added dimension that painting on raw canvas can deliver.

What paintings have you completed on raw canvas?

Jim: There have been a few on raw canvas. One recent painting is School.

As can often happen with abstract art, when I began this painting I wasn’t sure where to go with it. The canvas had this wonderful blue wash I really enjoyed with varying darker and lighter shades throughout. As I was contemplating the next move, suddenly I felt as though I was scuba-diving along the Great Barrier Reef. I haven’t gone scuba-diving in years, yet I was instantly transported, like I was right back in those warm coastal waters. Inspiration had struck!

If you study School, you’ll notice there are a lot of fish hidden within. The more you look, the more you will find.

Sweet Water Trail is another. Like I mentioned before about blue-heavy pieces, the photograph doesn’t depict the true colors; in person it is much more vibrant.

How did you decide to start using raw canvas in your work?

Jim: One day this young man came into the gallery. He was an art collector, I learned as we chatted. He was responsible for many placements in various art museums in New York and as such was very astute on the art scene. He suggested that it could be fun to experiment with raw canvas. After he initially planted the idea, I thought “Well, why not? I’ll try anything.”

I’m really glad that young man visited the gallery that day. Working with raw canvas has been very rewarding. I highly recommend any artists who hear about a method or material they aren’t sure of to just go for it. You might end up enjoying yourself and discovering a new way to create.

Both paintings are available at our online gallery, here and here.

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