Howard Kline is a kinesthetic artist. “Music inspires my art,” he says, and it has been a major influence on his paintings. Visual artists work with their sense of touch or sight, but Kline warms up and initiates his day in the studio by first stepping into a soundproof booth, intuitively pounding on a full set of drums for a few minutes. He is usually painting by around 6 a.m., then taking a break before midday when he returns back to his canvas.
Kline devotes about six or more hours each day, seven days a week, to creating his art. He channels passionate energy into his paintings, committing to a balance of shape, color and form while drawing his themes from music. His art is vibrant with color and movement. Kline enjoys all music—especially rock and roll and improvisational jazz. The numerous paintings that can be seen in his studio weave a story of a dedicated artist delighting in the values and contrasts of his art. His sensuous watercolor figure work honors the beauty of the feminine form.
Coming from humble beginnings, Kline was raised in a working-class Jewish family from Swampscott, Massachusetts. As a teen, he became known as the only Jewish lobsterman from Swampscott. He “converted” his family to eat the lobsters that he brought home from his workday. Kline’s first experience of art came naturally to him. Dabbling with pen and ink, he would render detailed sketches of the lobster fishermen at work.
At 9 years old, Kline began playing the drums. He became a talented rock-and-roll drummer in the ‘60s and played in local bands. A musician friend asked him to join a new band that was being formed which included members who eventually formed the famous rock band Boston, but he declined. “It was the road not taken,” says Kline. He considered attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music, but chose the path of painting instead.
Kline received a full scholarship to Montserrat College of Art near Boston in 1972. He presented a few pen-and-ink sketches that he brought in a small portfolio and was immediately accepted. “One day I just started painting; it’s all in my head,” he says. Art school taught him how to draw realistically, and he credits life drawings as being the foundation of all schools of art. Life drawings teach one how to learn to grow as an artist and begin a love affair with the process of painting.
He has been influenced by many different artists, but especially Hans Hoffman, Larry Rivers, early Marc Chagall and Chaim Soutine. Kline was inspired by the “Der Blaue Reiter” (Blue Rider) movement, a school of German Expressionism that drew parallels between painting and music. He sees his art as an expression of “joie de vivre”—a celebration of life. “No matter what adventures we have in the human condition, we still have to persevere and keep going because life is a precious thing—a gift,” says Kline.
Kline is extremely generous with his art and has donated many of his paintings to different nonprofit organizations and animal rights groups, such as the Tucson Humane Society. He has always been a supporter of the LBGT movement and has contributed his art to the cause for the past 30 years. “Equality” is a piece he created and donated to PFLAG in San Luis Obispo, California. He feels for those that have to struggle with relationships. He and his wife Chris have been happily married for 35 years and love Tucson, the arts and the music scene—especially ballroom dancing.
Kline has owned galleries for 45 years. His first was in a shoe factory in Lynn, Massachusetts, then in Cambria, California and Bisbee, Arizona. After 45 years of having a retail gallery, he now wants to keep a small gallery of his work at home. Though Kline and his wife enjoyed living in Bisbee and were successful in their gallery, they felt that Bisbee was too isolated for them. They found themselves running into Tucson a few times a week to dance, or for appointments, and decided the move to Old Pueblo would be a better fit.
In Tucson, Kline’s artist representative Tina Roesler can show his work by appointment at Gallery 2 Sun. Kline also has 15 paintings on display at Bacio Italiano. His work has graced posters for wine festivals, he has collectors of his art and has been commissioned to create paintings for organizations. “Old Glory” is a painting that can be found in the lobby of the VA hospital in Sierra Vista. In San Luis Obispo, the United Methodist Church commissioned a painting titled “Hands of God”.
Since COVID forced the closing of art galleries, Kline has been saddened to lose his public audience. “The art world ceased to exist, and an artist needs an audience; it’s a way of completing the circle,” he says. He feels Tucson would benefit from a new contemporary art gallery, encouraging a new generation of local artists to participate and prosper.
Kline has enjoyed hosting open studio tours in Tucson, and is committed to having his art be accessible to everyone—“art for the people”. In this spirit, he decided to create his own open studio event celebrating his 50 years of successful artistry. With permission from the city, he invites the public to “come on over and celebrate” and see his work, on April 18, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 2826 East Calle Glorietta, in Tucson.
Happy to speak about his art and what has inspired him in his career, Kline likes to encourage young artists to find their voice and personal style. He can facilitate independent study and assist in creating a college admission or career portfolio.
“I’m not trying to change the world, just trying to make the world a better place,” says Kline. He takes great pride and care so his paintings can live on, and have meaning and value. “It’s a way of cheating death.”
Teressa J. Hawkins is a freelance writer in Tucson and can be reached at [email protected].