As art curator of the Wythe Hotel, Kimia Ferdowsi Kline curates the works in the permanent collection, arranges rotating exhibits, maintains the hotel’s social media accounts, and organizes openings and other events. A talented painter in her own right, she is represented by Turn Gallery on the Lower East Side and Marrow Gallery in San Francisco, and has a solo show at Wayne State University in Detroit—where she recently completed a residency—on view through June 24. She lives in Fort Greene with her husband Kenny Kline and maintains a studio in her home.
Tell me a bit about your artistic practice, how you came to paint, and where you draw inspiration from. I’ve always made art ever since I was little. It was always something I loved doing. And then I guess when I was eight, I declared that I was going to be a painter to my parents. I don’t remember doing this. I studied painting in undergrad. I have a BFA and then I got my MA in it as well. It was always something I wanted to do. It’s my passion. It never felt like work. The idea of doing it as work is the most blissful thing ever. Now that I’m in New York and I’m working full time, I’m at the Wythe on Mondays and then I’m in my studio the rest of the week.
Looking at some of your paintings, I see some very Matisse-like elements… Matisse is a big influence. I love Francesco Clemente. I love Vuillard, Bonnard, all the French painters. Manet, Monet. The impressionists. And also the Bay Area Painters, so Diebenkorn, Park, Wayne Thiebold. He paints cake. He’s one of the Bay Area painters. I got my masters in San Francisco and that’s one of the big reasons I wanted to go to school out there because Richard Diebenkorn taught at that school and I was really interested in that way of painting.
I look at a lot of Eastern artists as well, like Persian miniatures. The way I deal with space is a mishmash of East and West. There’s some space and some perspective, but at the same time everything is really flattened out. I think that comes from growing up with Persian carpets and Persian miniatures, but then also in school studying Western art and the way space is defined through European traditions. So my work has a mix of that. And then I had a residency in India for a year, so I got to see all of the miniatures. It’s the closest I guess to seeing Iranian art in Iran. Like the use of pattern, the use of flattened space, and the use of color. I think my use of color comes a lot from the Middle East. Going to Morocco, I was like, I totally get this, it’s in my blood. And then going to India—all the pink. And just growing up with Persian carpets everywhere—that affects you!
Do you feel like you’re part of a community of artists living here now? Totally, and I didn’t really feel connected to a community until I started working at the Wythe. I go from studio to studio and we’re all in the same boat, trying to make it. Once you’re in the art world, you see who’s in it and who’s on the periphery. What I’m doing is an offshoot of the art world, putting art in a hotel. That doesn’t happen very often. And we’re not selling it—it’s not a gallery. We’re collecting it.
It’s a great place to be an artist—a lot of support, a lot of people to connect with. I have my friends whose work I really respect come and do studio visits. It’s like an extension of school. We used to have critiques every six weeks and you get feedback. Being able to carry that into the real world is very beneficial.
I saw Kara Walker outside my apartment. I shook her hand! I see famous artists all the time. I bumped into Francisco Clemente at Marlow & Sons. He was having lunch, I was having lunch. I got his autograph, he invited me to his show at the Rubin Museum. It’s really fun. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I moved here. There’s no other place if you want to be a serious artist—if you want to be part of the discourse. You have to be here and it’s really fun once you are here. It’s a struggle, but it’s fun. It’s expensive. That’s why my studio is in our house. I had a beautiful studio in Bushwick, but they raised the rent. I couldn’t afford it.
Are the pieces in the rooms at the Wythe Hotel commissioned specifically for the hotel? Or are they bought from the artist’s collection? It’s a mix. We’ve definitely commissioned—like, we want you to come and stay and make a piece based on your experience here—but the majority of the pieces are bought from the stuff the artist is making, and I think that’s important because you’re supporting what that artist’s vision is and what they’re genuinely interested in instead of giving them a big check and being like, make me this. So it’s kind of different. But in certain situations, it makes sense to commission things, depending on what the artist does.
In terms of artists who are on the rise, it seems like your timing is really spot on. How do you figure out which artists to include in the collection? I think it’s because I’m an artist. I think that’s really the answer. It’s because I studied four years in undergrad with other artists, because I have an MFA in it, because I wake up everyday and it’s all I wanna do, you know. So I think when that is your passion, it becomes evident who is about to explode, and who is writing about who and where and why and in my brain there is a whole map of the art world right now and that’s just from exposure and from research. I do a lot of research and just from knowing and having that education.