While Katarzyna Klein’s artistic career has taken many paths, she’s never strayed far from the home that influenced her instantly recognisable style. “I am drawn to shape, abstraction, simplicity and colour,” she says of her paintings of gently unsentimental natural or domestic scenes, often featuring unexpected touches of folk magic.
(Pictured above: Detail from ‘Cabin Belarus’)
Growing up in the picturesque surroundings of a Leicestershire village, Katarzyna was raised on the stories of her Polish family’s origins. “Without a doubt,” she says, “my mother is my initial source of inspiration.”
“The driving force behind many of my paintings is her childhood tales of living in a wooden house in the forest, embracing nature and the simple – but tough – experience of growing up with very little. I hope my work reflects a narrative that is part of my heritage and deeply ingrained within me.” Her family stories are gaining new chapters; in 2018 she returned to Belarus and Poland with her mother to visit the village she grew up in. “This was the first time she had returned since she was 11 years old – she’s now 83!”
Katarzyna kept these influences with her as she moved to London in the 1980s to study graphic design at Central St Martins College (now known as University of the Arts London, or UAL). During this time a visiting Polish poster designer recognised the Eastern European influence in her work, and encouraged her to study at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art in Poland via a travel bursary.
“Taking place before the fall of communism, it was a fascinating three months,” she says. “My work shifted from graphics to illustration as a result, and on my return to London I began to work as a freelance illustrator.”
For the next decade she produced work for the pages of the Observer and The Sunday Times magazines, for the BBC, and brands such as Harvey Nichols and Marks and Spencer, while teaching on various degree courses. Her work was later spotted by a textile design agency, with whom she partnered to apply her vibrant, playful style to surface pattern design.
By 2004, having started her own family and put down roots back in Leicester, Katarzyna decided to begin painting for herself, and set up the ‘Art House Leicester’ exhibition event with a couple of creative friends. “We opened our homes and studios to show our work – and others’ – to the public over the course of a weekend in June,” she explains, “and we now welcome around 1000 visitors to 10 venues, showing the work of around 60 artists.” Meanwhile, her work is now exhibited in a variety of galleries around the country.