Alex Kling: Grazing the Surface

Los Angeles-based bespoke artist and Palisades Charter High School alum Alex Kling (daughter of Pali High tennis coach Bud Kling) premiered her first solo exhibition, “Grazing the Surface,” last month at the Thomas Hayes Gallery, 6162 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

The exhibition features fabric painted with her original artwork, along with hand-painted textiles used as upholstery for select design objects (with furniture from the Thomas Hayes Studio).

Inspired by Kling’s own memories, the pieces in “Grazing the Surface” are meant to depict exploration and escape through medium and content.

“Growing up I’ve always been drawn to art and design—creating with my hands,” Kling explained to the Palisadian-Post. “I took art classes as a kid, and I’ve always done little crafts and projects.”

Graduating Pali High in 2007 (as tennis team captain), Kling enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the Textiles and Apparel Design program where she explored a variety of materials and mediums.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of career—I knew I had an interest in design,” Kling said. “A lot of the classes involved with the program included painting, illustration, weaving—I was able to push my boundaries as an artist.

“I ended up focusing on textiles over apparel—I wasn’t as interested in the sewing aspect—wasn’t as good at it, maybe.”

Kling began creating textiles and surface designs for fabrics while in school, developing and refining her aesthetic and establishing what would later become the foundational motifs of her work.

“What I most enjoyed was creating the patterns and designing the clothes in my head,” Kling shared. “While I was at Madison, I created some of the patterns I still use today.”

Kling’s oeuvre focuses mainly on human shapes—on the topography of faces and the contours of the naked human body in repose, in dance, in sex. Nature also seeps into her work, with artichokes, blossoms, folias, koi, lemons and honey leaves swirling in colorful, uncluttered patterns on her fabrics.

Her style, hard to typify, is something like a minimalist rococo combining the whimsicality of Chagall with the pop-art motion of Haring. Her designs dance with empty space, imbuing her chosen lines with a careful-but-playful quality reminiscent of Hirschfeld.

Mischievous, seductive, feminine, Kling’s art is also somehow wistful, serious—halfway between feyness and ferocity.

After graduating in 2011 with a degree in textiles and apparel design, Kling worked as an assistant designer for Runway Textiles in downtown Los Angeles.

“I was really brought into that world,” Kling said. “It was a great experience, but I didn’t get to be that creative. The company only made designs for women’s clothing, mostly floral prints, so it wasn’t as fulfilling for me to work on that. But it was a great eye-opener, being able to see what the textile industry was like in LA at that time.”

Kling took a job in New York City in 2012 as an artist for designer Wendy Nichol, constructing handmade luxury leather handbags, sculptures and other merchandise.

“On the side, I’d always be painting, drawing patterns,” Kling said. “I’d do it as a hobby—at that time, I wasn’t thinking about turning it into a business. I was just young and trying to work out my niche.”

Kling returned to LA in 2013 to work in the entertainment industry as a receptionist for International Creative Management Partners.

“I’ve always been passionate about film. Half of my focus in school was in film,” Kling said. “For my senior thesis in college, I picked several movie directors to inspire all my handmade artwork.

“It was my opportunity to get my foot into the door of the entertainment world. But I didn’t want to be an agent—it wasn’t for me, the corporate structure. I craved to be back in a creative environment.”

Kling then worked for several interior designers and furniture designers in Los Angeles, including Estee Stanley Design and Spark and Dowel. Her close friend, designer Jake Arnold, was the one who originally encouraged her to create her own company after seeing her collection of textile and wallpaper patterns.

“He told me, ‘You could do this as a business.’ It was always something I’d done casually—I never imagined I’d be where I am now.”

Kling’s company, AK Design LA, sells original hand-painted and hand-drawn artworks, wallpapers, prints, textiles and more. She digitally prints her wallpapers in LA using sustainable UV-curable inks on non-woven matte paper and her fabrics, which are all linen or linen blend, can be used for upholstery, drapes or lampshades. Soon, her product line will include bedding, apparel and other accessories.

Her interior design work has also gained a cult following on the AK Design LA Instagram, where she posts pictures of the spaces she organizes for her 8,500 followers. Kling artfully crafts spaces that play with light, texture, depth and decor to create timeless interiors that feel as easily at home in a seaside Victorian or Spanish colonial as they do in a glass-and-steel Mid-century.

For those in the LA art scene, Kling’s career, still in its nascence, will be one to watch closely—she has only just begun to graze the surface.

“I’m inspired by what’s around me, by different artists that I love, by shapes and objects,” Kling said. “It’s when I’m playing around that I’ll suddenly find a pattern that I love.

“With everything I do, I want there to be a handmade quality to it. Whatever it is, I want there to be something personal about it.”

Kling’s work will be on display through April. For more information, visit akdesignla.com. Follow Kling on Instagram: @ak.designla