Artist Ilse Kleinman was born in Germany in 1925. As a child, she and her parents fled Berlin and settled in South Africa due to growing antisemitism in Nazi Germany. Kleinman's experience as a German Jew reemerged in her consciousness during the rise of apartheid in South Africa. She found refuge in her art and used creative expression as a medium to protest cruelty and dehumanization in South Africa and around the world.
Kleinman’s work incorporates both Holocaust- and apartheid-related motifs, including forlorn faces, congestion, pain, and solidarity. Many of her pieces depict crowded individuals representing ostracization, seclusion, and confusion. Kleinman left most of her work untitled because she believed that titles could limit the impact of her work on the viewer. She wanted to allow space for viewers to arrive at their own understandings through studying her brush strokes, subjects, and colors.
In 1965, Kleinman obtained her Bachelors in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town. Kleinman developed a style centered on abstract expressionism, using paint and pencil as her primary medium. Her later works incorporate brighter colors through the overly dramatic use of pastels, standing in stark contrast to her earlier works that are heavy with oils, dark colors, and black ink.
Despite widespread protest, which Kleinman and her husband actively supported, it became increasingly clear that the couple’s children would not have a safe and peaceful future in South Africa. The Kleinmans moved to the United States in 1979. Kleinman sustained her artistic passion in her studio in Santa Monica, California where she continued to paint, draw, and work with woodcuts. Her writing and art provided refuge from a world full of injustice.
Kleinman’s paintings have been exhibited in London, Vancouver, Johannesburg, Hanover, Frankfurt, and Los Angeles.