Encaustic Mosaic by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Joyce Klassen

Fire and Water: The Artwork of Joyce & Randy Klassen

Encaustic Mosaic by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Joyce Klassen

Encaustic Mosaic by Wenaha Gallery guest artist Joyce Klassen

Most of the time, she is tidy and neat. He . . . is not.

But in the studio, the situation reverses: while Joyce Klassen attacks hot wax with a blowtorch to create encaustic collage, her husband Randy sits behind an easel, watercolors tidily arrayed as he quietly paints.

Or, more often when he sees Joyce reaching for the firepower, he finds something else to do.

Design and Texture with F Sharp in the Key of G, encaustic by Joyce Klassen

Design and Texture with F Sharp in the Key of G, encaustic by Joyce Klassen

“Randy is not mechanical,” the yin half of this wife/husband Walla Walla art duo explains. “Every time I pick up that blowtorch, it strikes fear in his heart. He’ll say, ‘Do you need to get the car filled with gas, or does it need washing? I’ll go do some errands.'”

Fortunately for Randy and his art, Joyce is not always blazing away, or, as she terms it, bringing form out of chaos. While Joyce designs, finding precisely what she needs in piles that look suspiciously like random jumbles of indiscriminate stuff (“Those who know me well are surprised at this aspect of my personality”), Randy creates dogs, cats, people, geese, old trucks, towns, and cathedrals in what is often described a most difficult, unforgiving medium.

Watercolor, for Randy, goes back to a childhood spent painting with his father, Jacob Klassen, a Russian emigre who settled in Canada and, in a career spanning 70 years, made a name for himself as an artist.

“He was a high school teacher — German, geography, and art,”  Randy says, “but he painted, and I went out and painted and sketched with him.” It was an apprenticeship, really, resulting in a familiarity and expertise so deep that viewers of Randy’s art are convinced he graduated from some prestigious art academy.

To Such Belongs the Kingdom of God by Wenaha Gallery artist Randy Klassen

To Such Belongs the Kingdom of God by Randy Klassen

“People ask what art school I went to. I never went to art school.”

He did, however, attend seminary, and upon earning his degree from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA, embarked upon a 50-plus year career in pastoral ministry, with a six-year Sabbatical during which he and Joyce worked fulltime as artists — initially the proverbially starving, then eating a bit more, and finally making a business of it, at one point traveling to China as part of a cultural exchange.

It was during this period of poverty that Randy created one of his most endearing and enduring works, “To Such Belongs the Kingdom of God,” featuring a small child opening the massive, arched, Gothic cathedral doorways to a church.

“I wanted to express how childlike faith could open the biggest doors,” Randy explains. “That painting turned out to be a winner,” with lithograph and Giclee editions selling out all but two prints. But the most wonderful aspect of the work, Randy continues, is the story behind the child:

Autumn Leaf Fantasy by Randy Klassen

Autumn Leaf Fantasy by Randy Klassen

The doors had been sketched, stumbled upon when Randy was driving about, scouting possibilities and discovering St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, IL. The image of the child he found when looking through old papers on his desk (remember, he’s the untidy one).

“I thought it was a boy, and I painted him into the picture.

“A couple weeks after the first lithograph came out, a lady called from California and said, ‘Thank you for painting my little girl,'” the image of whom had appeared in the reference he used.

“The thing that’s wonderful, though, is that Jesus put a child in the midst of them — not a little boy, not a little girl, no partiality between men and women.

“I wish the church had caught on.”

Palouse Falls in April by Randy Klassen

Palouse Falls in April by Randy Klassen

But Randy gets it, and he and Joyce are equal partners in an art career that is full time again. Upon retirement from their final church in Valley Springs, which started in a real estate office and grew to the largest church in Calaveras County, CA, Randy and Joyce arrived in Walla Walla in 2003, where Joyce, in addition to creating mixed media works spanning abstract to realism, participates in community theater across three states. Her work with encaustic drives her eye to look everywhere, all the time, for potential “junque” to incorporate within an artwork, the less perfect, the better.

“I like the junky stuff better than the pretty ones — if I find a sand dollar, I don’t like it to be perfect. It has more interest in a piece if it’s not.

“It’s kind of like people — It’s the little imperfections that make them special.”

One could almost add, to such sorts belongs the Kingdom of God.

Wenaha GalleryRandy and Joyce Klassen are the featured Pacific Northwest Art Event artists from Monday, August 1 through Saturday, September 3.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.