Ron Kleemann (b.1937, Bay City, MI; d.2014, Great Barrington, MA) is known for his paintings of the shiny, brightly painted race cars, trucks, aeroplanes and vehicles he viewed as American icons, such as police cars and fire engines. In 1961, Kleemann earned a BA in Architecture and Design from the University of Michigan and, moving straight to New York, began his career as an abstract sculptor before turning to painting in the late 1960s. Kleemann’s subsequent images conveyed a Pop Art sensibility, and he increasingly focused his work on what he deemed ‘corporate graffiti’, depicting the branding marks and logos on automobiles. In 1968, Kleemann began to use photographs as aides and, in the early 1970s, started to focus on extreme close-ups of race car engines, paintings that made him an icon of Photorealism. After being shown at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in SoHo, New York, in the early 1970s, he became well-known as a Photorealist artist.
Kleemann cited his Midwestern upbringing as the source of his love of automobiles. Beginning with Grand Prix cars, he later painted Indy 500 and NASCAR race cars. ‘I simply paint what I see and what appeals to me’, he explained, ‘I like the display of things: signs, labels, colours, and compositions are all very important to me.’ In the 1990s, Kleemann produced a series of works about the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons in New York, another icon of American culture, which retained the same sharply realistic aesthetic.
Kleeman’s work has been exhibited extensively throughout the United States and is included in many notable public collections, including Guggenheim and MOMA in New York. Important recent institutional exhibitions include Picturing America: Photorealism in the 1970s, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2009); Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting (2013-2017) which opened in Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany, before moving to 10 locations, including Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, UK; and Tampa Museum of Art, Florida; Hyperrealismo 1967-2013, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Spain (2015); and Chrome Dreams and Infinite Reflections: American Photorealism, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, USA (2022).
A complete overview of Ron Kleemann’s life and work is available online in the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Art, which includes an extensive interview and his personal and work-related papers.Read more