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Artist mixes nostalgia with conservative angst
by Janine Kearney
Feb 07, 2008 | 1289 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune/Debra Reid</a> Aging neon and wood signs are considered "exotic" by Reno artist and former sign painter Jenifer Klein.
Tribune/Debra Reid Aging neon and wood signs are considered "exotic" by Reno artist and former sign painter Jenifer Klein.
<a href=>Tribune/Debra Reid</a> Vintage neon signs dominate the work of Reno painter and Tribune cartoonist Jenifer Klein.
Tribune/Debra Reid Vintage neon signs dominate the work of Reno painter and Tribune cartoonist Jenifer Klein.
Jenifer Klein's life is just as colorful as the art she creates. She rides Harleys and has taken flying lessons. And she's ... gasp! ... a politically conservative cartoonist and painter in a world of liberals.

Despite her love for adventure — or because of it — Klein enjoys capturing the quirkiness and warmth of nostalgic America in her paintings. With her bright eyes and easy laugh, she's not your usual artistic rebel.

The subjects of her art vary greatly, from capturing historic neon signs to wide sweeps of valleys grazed by a curious cow to her wet and ruby-goggled nephew peeking over the edge of a swimming pool.

In one painting, Klein captures the funny moment among a group of little girls with hands on hips, chiding each other, that she likes to call "Negotiations Breaking Down."

"I like a visual sense of humor; things that draw me are a little goofy," she said.

Klein recently experienced her first art show, creating four vibrant paintings based on historic signs of The Sandman Motel and other famous local nostalgic signs.

"All these signs along the road pointing in the right direction were fascinating," Klein said. "And when they got run-down and a little seedy, it just made the signs more exotic."

Even though it all worked out in the end, the art show experience was an adventure of its own.

"I was so nervous," Klein said. "Then the lights blew out, and the date of the artists reception that was advertised was wrong. My family couldn't come (from California) because of the snow."

During the planning stage for the show, Klein discovered the cult following for historic signs, and how many Reno signs had gained world renown on the Internet. The signs — and consequently her artwork — sparked nostalgic conversations about family road trips and funny stories about the long drives to their destinations.

"On the night of the reception, it was really great to hear people's stories about how they related to the art," Klein said. "Paintings connect to what your experience is better than a photo can."

As a budding artist, Klein was inspired by famous landscape artists.

"Curt Walters created amazing paintings of the Grand Canyon," Klein said. "I've hiked down in the canyon many times with my family. It was Walters' and Thomas Moran's paintings that really spoke to me."

She loved the nostalgia of the Old West shown through John Wayne films, and the town of Mayberry portrayed in The Andy Griffith Show.

Her inspiration in art is also tied to her childhood. In the late 1960s, Klein's mother used to grab a compass, pack her three children into a Rambler station wagon and take to the road until something caught their eye. Sometimes it was a short drive to a reservoir; other times, they camped with cousins or visited national parks. She said they sometimes used rivers for bathing and laundry. Klein remembers a teacher becoming tired of her "fabled" stories of adventure after returning from summer vacation.

Her father was usually left behind at their California home, where he worked and worried about making ends meet.

"My dad was an actor and it was a big emotional rollercoaster, never knowing when his next job would be and trying to support his family," Klein said.

Art has always inspired her, and sometimes her mom would take her to the grocery store as a child, just so she could watch the window artists at work. Despite the rollercoaster lifestyle, she realized she couldn't put off her calling as an artist forever.

Klein studied commercial art at West Valley Occupational Center in Woodland Hills, Calif., then began compiling a quirky client list — from tire stores to palm readers and everything in between.

"I didn't want to be an artist, and I did everything I could to avoid it," Klein said. "But art chose me, and I've got to do it."

Since moving from California to Reno in 1999, Klein has honed her skills with art classes. Despite her "hippie-style" long hair, her conservative political views single her out among her artist peers, she said. Finally seeking to try a new medium to give her views a voice, she tried her hand at political cartoons on June 5, 2004 when President Ronald Reagan died.

Klein drew a tribute to the Republican actor-turned-president as a shadowed profile on a horse riding into the horizon. She brought the cartoon to the Sparks Tribune office, and that night, Publisher Ed McCaffrey stopped production to post Klein's cartoon on the opinion page.

Klein's political cartoons have been published in the Sparks Tribune ever since. She said she enjoys the challenge of keeping up-to-date on current events and focusing her conservative rage to create interesting cartoons.

Klein enjoys living here and said several well-known artists work or teach in the area. And Klein feels fortunate to have the support of her family and friends as an artist. Klein calls long-time boyfriend, John, her "biggest supporter besides my mom."

"This town has been awesome," Klein said. "If you put forth an effort and show you're sincere, people will support you."

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