3S Artspace, located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is showcasing the artistic work of Tatana Kellner in their contemporary art gallery. The exhibit titled, Your Leader Could be a Tyrant, How to Tell includes 26 paintings of recent tyrants and their peculiar habits. This exhibit opened in 3S Artspace’s gallery on Sept. 11, 2020 and will remain open through Nov. 1. The exhibit was influenced by Kellner’s book of the same title which was co-published with Ann Kalmbach back in 2018. 

“The artist has a fascinating history that informs her work, but the art itself is very compelling,” said Beth Falconer, executive director for 3S Artspace. “I happen to love when somebody’s body of work works in this space and this is an exhibit that would not work in every space. The cohesiveness, the monochromatic nature, the visual impact, even before exploring content, hits me personally. When you dig further into it and explore the content of the exhibit, it is very sad, but at the same time quirky. She can almost find humor in tyranny, which not everyone can do. What she is trying to do, I believe, is get the visitor to be curious about knowing more and see the impact of sheer numbers.” 

Kellner grew up in Czechoslovakia under the communist regime and is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. She escaped Czechoslovakia in August 1968, after the Russian invasion of the country. By 1969, Kellner and her family settled in Toledo, Ohio and became American citizens. She studied at the University of Toledo, where she received her Bachelor of Arts. She went on to graduate school at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and received a Master of Fine Arts in visual arts. It was at RIT where Kellner met Ann Kalmbach; after finishing graduate school the two women moved to Rosendale, New York with two other artists, Anita Wetzel, and Barbara Leoff Burge. These four women established the Women’s Studio Workshop as an alternative workspace for women artists. Kellner produced art her entire career and after retiring in 2017, she continues to create art full-time.   

In her artist statement, Kellner states, “My work reflects on the ever-changing nature of information we are presented with and the unrelenting pace of contemporary life. The news bombardment by various outlets create a culture and atmosphere of urgency that intensely focuses on the present. As one event supersedes another, they blend together to form a fragmented narrative. I try to slow down this deluge by carefully focusing on a specific issue.” 

Each year 3S Artspace presents an “open call” to artists. This allows artists to submit an application to be reviewed by the 3S committee. Kellner responded to their open call and the committee saw that her work fit the 3S Gallery space and the overall mission of their non-profit organization. The committee’s unanimous vote came back as all yes’s for Kellner’s exhibit. Her 26 monochromatic paintings are accompanied by “wall texts” that describe traits common to all tyrants, as well as the crimes of that particular tyrant. 

“Each painting incorporates silhouetted images of each tyrant or dictator with hand stamped text about their peculiar habits,” Kellner said. “In the spring of 2018 I was on a residency at the Bogliasco Foundation, editing the artist’s book and while there, I accidentally spilled some ink on the printed pages and really liked the way the silhouetted images started to dissolve, paralleling the history of these tyrants’ lives. This inspired me to start these series of paintings.  Each painting is created by using a technique that somehow ‘tortures’ the image – either by soaking or burning. The goal of the exhibition is to function like our memory, where the evil acts of tyrants have often disappeared from our collective consciousness.” 

For people who cannot attend in-person events due the coronavirus (COVID-19), there is an interactive virtual gallery and an episode of “Museum Open House” highlighting this exhibit on 3S Artspace’s website.  

Photo courtesy of 3S Artspace/ Tatana Kellner.