Phillip, Life Study, Meg White, painted low-fire white clay


The Kleinhelter Gallery

A review from Martin French

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Martin French. All rights reserved.

Editors note: Martin French’s reaction to this work occurred while he was preparing a production of The Clash of the Woyzecks taking place in Kleinhelter Gallery.

January can be unforgiving, but those venturing to the Kleinhelter Gallery this month are treated to a collection of works that are charitable with their subjects. The New Albany-based gallery kicks off 2024 with Portraits, a celebration of portraiture by local artists. Curated by Gina Kleinhelter, the exhibition comprises commission works, studies, self-portraits, experimental work, and work that exists chiefly online. It’s a compelling mix of work adopting different ways to engage with the subject, each inviting us into the story of who the sitter is.

Featuring work from eight artists, Portraits covers a wide range of techniques and themes, allowing casual visitors a fresh perspective on the human within a few paces.  The works range in style and technique, making it a refreshing varied exhibition.

Claudia Hammer contributed a large number of works drawn from throughout her career, allowing the observer to explore the development of her work. The journey takes us from her first painting – a self-portrait in the style of Tamara de Lempicka in 1993 – taking in pieces like Mermaid and Deborah, through her Lavaski paintings, to a self-portrait capturing her more recently.

This contrasts with Heather Brunetti’s work, which has a more naturalistic quality, with a heightened reality. Work like Liliana is a paragon of the craft with subtle backlighting creating an almost angelic effect. This selection of her works also includes Pearl, a part of the Lunar Codex project, so seeing this work in person is a treat.

Known for her children’s portraits, Jessica Lewis brings an impressive selection. The recently completed Autumn Gold, winner of a merit award at the NOAPS Show in Alexandria VA, sits alongside the almost pre-Raphaelite The Sunbather, and the play of light in both pieces hints at the narrative behind them. Luna, a powerful portrait of a girl, has a commanding presence at the room’s end.

Gallery co-owner, Ray Kleinhelter, contributes four pieces to the show. The three self-portraits in a hat, grouped, combine to draw attention with strong colors and bold geometric backgrounds asking questions of perspective, and working together to push forward the man and the hat he is under.

Ellen Weis, a well-respected cellist, presents three works. Seen together, these portraits gaze directly at the viewer. As most of the other subjects cast their gaze elsewhere, seeing these three looking directly at the viewer is slightly uncomfortable. Self Portrait interrogates the background noise of our own lives as artists and as art appreciators.

Debra Lott, another artist on the Lunar Codex, shows work examining identity and gender. In particular, the close placement of Lien and A Secret demonstrates the range of scope that Lott works in. A Secret is a small, intimate moment, almost a miniature in comparison to the large-scale representation of woman that is Lien, the colors here are more defiant and bold.

Lien, Debra Lott, oil on canvas. Perhaps, Sharon Weis, oil on birch panel

Sharon Weis presented two pieces each from two of her collections: Expressive Arms and Patterned Figures. You can recognize the artist in each work, but there are distinct differences between the series. The layering of patterns in Closed Box, Open Box, and Hereditary fascinates me, patterns like tiling applied to hair, birds, to backgrounds, are reminiscent of tiling in the Mediterranean basin.

Shayne Hull brings work from his series Tools, and with it a more comedic take on the world of portraiture. All self-portraits, this series features Hull’s face either obscured, framed, or compromised by one or more tools. Wrenches and screwdrivers are deployed to great effect, and the most effective is the spading fork used in New American Gothic.    

“This is the age of the selfie”, Gina Kleinhelter says, “and portraits were the original selfies”. She’s not wrong – the ubiquity of the smartphone has democratized the portrait in some ways, but in others, it has devalued it. It would appear that AI art has taken both the good and the bad of that journey to new levels, and today, many voice a fear that we are on a precipice artistically. However, while AI can replicate, it cannot create, and the soul of these works is unique. If it were necessary, this show goes a long way to reassert the artist as the prime interpreter of the human experience.

PORTRAITS continues at The Kleinhelter Gallery until March 2nd, open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11 to 6.  Private viewings can be arranged by appointment by email at or by contacting Gina (502-432-6227) or Ray Kleinhelter (502-432-6226)

Kleinhelter Gallery
701 E 8th Street
New Albany, IN 47150

Martin French has worked in a variety of theatrical roles over many years in several countries. In Louisville, he has worked with a wide range of local companies. Never with Actors Theatre, though. He is a Founder and Co-Artistic Director of The Chamber Theatre.