USM Art Galleries Gorham and Portland

Call/Response: Hannah Barnes and Susan Klein

October 14 – December 8, 2021

Opening Reception: October 14, 5-7 pm
Gallery Talk by the artists at 5:30 pm

Download a copy of the exhibition's brochure here.

A pattern of purple and orange triangles bisected by a white diagonal line in the center. At left the triangles are rendered in paint; at right they are recreated in ceramic.


The title of this exhibition, Call/Response, refers to a traditional musical form often used in the context of communal worship. It is a form that is typically repetitive and rigidly structured, but its enactment allows for constant variation and elaboration by the participants. The process of performing call and response forges and nourishes a community; what begins as a group of individuals becomes united as one voice. The self is absorbed in the collective, and the barriers that establish each person’s unique identity dissolve in the wide embrace of universal forces.

Hannah Barnes and Susan Klein have worked together for many years exploring processes for generating works of visual art using variations of the call and response structure. Unlike music, which is most often a collaborative and collective art form, visual art in the modern Western tradition emphasizes the individual artist as a self-sufficient, often renegade, creator of a unique vision. Challenging this historically dominant paradigm and its privileging of the heroic male artist, Barnes and Klein situate their work in relation to craft traditions associated with rituals and women’s work. This is an alternative mode of modern abstract art that recognizes that abstract visual forms structure human meaning and perpetuate beauty through many cultural productions. Like musical notes, the abstract geometric shapes that are the foundation of Barnes’ and Klein’s work are fundamental units whose purpose and significance are created by their context and composition.

Both artists maintain their distinctive identities while creating in direct response to each other’s work. Their process is fluid — series of drawings, paintings, and sculptures are exchanged and serve as prompts and inspirations for the development of further series of works. They share a visual language based on vibrant colors and geometric forms that are stretched and pulled, twisted and reshaped, while still retaining traces of underlying grids, triangles, and circles. The formal vocabulary of modern geometric abstraction is blended with references to traditional forms used by artisans in many cultures to make ritual, decorative, and functional objects. Klein’s ceramic sculptures playfully juggle colors concretized in wonky geometric shapes reminiscent of idols, funerary urns, and lingam shrines. The triangle that features so prominently in many of Barnes’ works echoes the traditional mountain form that permeates the art and artifacts of the Dongria tribe, an animist culture she studied in India.

Barnes and Klein embrace and maintain the tensions between their multiple interests and concerns. They are at once professional artists working in a central tradition of modern abstraction and highly attuned to alternative modes of cultural production. While their work remains focused on the creation of objects, they explore the significance of art, its processes and its products, outside the commodity structures of modern society. Their mutually-inflected working process provides an example of how to break down the walls of the studio and bring the artist out of isolation — and, as we have all learned during the pandemic, communication and relationships are vital to creation.

— Kim Grant, Ph.D.
Professor of Art History

Watch the opening talk by the artists:

Hannah Barnes is a painter who works with abstract forms and tropes to investigate the nature of meaning within abstraction. Her work in painting, drawing, and installation is permeated by an interest in pattern-based structures, fragmentation, and impermanence. Investigations into ritual-based drawing traditions inform her approach to process and materials. Born and raised on the New England coast, Barnes received an MFA in Visual Art from Rutgers State University of New Jersey and a BFA in Painting from Maine College of Art. Her projects have been exhibited in such places as the Columbus Museum of Art and Design in Columbus, Indiana, the Dhoominal Gallery in Delhi, the Academy of Fine Art and Design in Wroclaw, Poland, and Trestle Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. Barnes recently completed a residency at the Studio Program at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, and she was the recipient of a 2016 Hedda Sterne Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center. She was the recipient of a 2017-2018 Fulbright-Nehru Academic Excellence Fellowship for creative research in India.

Susan Klein is an artist and curator living in Charleston, SC. She has shown her work nationally and internationally including recent exhibitions at Ortega y Gasset Projects and Day and Night Projects. Klein is a 2020-2021 recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. Other awards include a Hambidge Center Residency, Wassaic Project Residency (NY) and residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (Brooklyn), a full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center, an Ox-bow Artist-in-Residence Summer Fellowship, an Otis College of Art and Design Summer Residency, residency at Arteles Creative Research Center (Finland), and residency at Takt (Berlin). Klein received her MFA in 2004 from University of Oregon, a BFA in 2001 from University of New Hampshire, and studied art at NYU from 1997-99. Currently, she teaches painting at the College of Charleston and is co-director of Tiger Strikes Asteroid Greenville.

Image: Left: Hannah Barnes, Blue Blaze (detail), 2018. Oil and watercolor on linen, 40 x 32 in. Right: Susan Klein, After “Blue Blaze” (detail), 2019. Glazed and oil painted ceramic stoneware, 23 x 17 x 8 in.  

Exhibition images

A triangular sculpture sits on a table with geometrical watercolors and other sculptures in the background.  Abstract geometric and drawings sit together on a shelf

At left a shelf sits with ceramics; at right, a screen with a pattern A table whose top undulates is in the foreground with abstract ceramics; behind, similarly abstract watercolor paintings
Images above: Artwork by Hannah Barnes and Susan Klein, part of Call/Response: Hannah Barnes and Susan Klein at the USM Art Gallery, 2021. Photos by Liz Brown.