//Ad libs: In the name of science

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In the name of science

En plein air it's not. In fact, artist Klari Reis' studio sounds more like the labs I grew up in, where my biochemist parents let me play with Erlenmeyer flasks and mold snowmen out of Parafilm.

Hey, did you know there's a film production company in Romania named Parafilm?

But we were talking about Klari. The intrepid artist has to suit up in protective gear to paint with the synthetic (and toxic when wet) plastic she uses
to paint molecular structures. Her striking images have such names as "Caffeine," "Xanax," "Ascorbic Acid," "Benazepril."

To maintain the plastic at the right thickness to paint, she keeps her studio at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This wasn't much fun when she lived in England -- she had lots of space heaters -- but it works well in California.

Klari adds dyes and gels to create the vibrant colors she favors and "make aspects of the image pop out." In England, for whatever reason, she used a lot of red. After moving back to the Bay Area, where she grew up, she found herself using a cheery light yellow-green for the first time.

She has to wait 24 hours for each layer of plastic to dry, which means she usually works on a few paintings at once. Once the plastic is dry, there's just no cleaning her paintbrushes. So she uses disposable brushes and "a lot of plastic spoons."

Here and there, she throws in bright dots with colored glue sticks from a glue gun. That makes it more interesting when you touch the finished product, running your fingers over the smooth surfaces of the plastic and poking the bumpy dots.

And you're allowed -- actually encouraged -- to touch her paintings now hanging in the Chelsea Art Gallery in Palo Alto. Kids, she says, love it. And maybe just a few adults, too. Check it out.

(And take a look at my Weekly story on Klari while you're at it.)

Pictured: Klari Reis in her San Francisco studio. Photograph by Norbert von der Groeben.