Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Art of Abdul Mati Klarwein

Abdul Mati Klarwein is probably best know as the painter who created the album cover art for Santana’s Abraxas, and for the album that defined fusion jazz, Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, both of which were released in 1970. This was my first exposure to his work—I recall spending hours looking at the cover of Abraxas as I played that record again and again.

Annunciation, 1961 (cover art for Abraxas)

I first discovered Klarwein’s art as a larger body of work, however, a couple years later. I had the good fortune to be visiting a friend of mine one day; he showed me a book of Klarwein’s art, titled Milk n’ Honey. I totally flipped over this work, and have been a huge fan ever since.

Klarwein was a “visionary”/surrealist painter who possessed an extremely high level of technical skill. In the second half of the twentieth century, the mainstream of the art world was focused mainly on abstract and/or conceptual art. Because Klarwein’s art happened to be on some album covers, and because he ignored the prevailing trends of modernism, Klarwein was considered by the art establishment to be “just” a commercial artist or “psychedelic” artist, and was as a result rejected and ignored. Unfortunately, this situation still exists for the most part.

You will probably never see Klarwein’s work in an art history class, and although a few books featuring his work have been published over the years, sadly, they are all out of print.

(click on images below for larger size)

Still Life with Sugar and Nuts, 1956

Artist and Model, 1959

St. John #1, 1962

Astral Body Asleep, 1968

Astral Body Awake, 1969

Bellini Family, 1973

Elanore Ananda, 1975

Wet Curve, 1981

Soundscape, 1982

Laure Klkarwein, 1986

Camouflage, 1987

There is some excellent information on Klarwein at wikipedia, and there is a beautiful website featuring a ton of his work, more info, and quotes from Klarwein himself. I you like his art, I strongly suggest you check it out.

What does it say about the art world that it was immune to its [Klarewein’s art] clear and present beauty? – musician Jon Hassell


Anonymous said...

Thank You for assembling this web site. I bought " Milk and Honey " in 1976? for $10. I was just a teenager. When my father found the book in my dresser drawer he flipped, even though he had stacks of playboy magazines himself. I knew I had found a master artist, I think the Master Artist of the 20th century.

I was also fortunate enough to talk to him. He wrote a letter to me asking me if he had left a photo of a project he was working on in the copy of Mil Ventanas I had ordered. I told him no and said I loved his pictures, he laughed. He has been an inspiration to me in my artwork and to have that "Mati " attitude to life.

I consider his work platinum and having read his biography, etc, thanks to you am now not surprised why he has not gotten the aclaim he is surely deserving of. I have run an art gallery for several years and when I bring up his name, no one to date has known who he is. Your web site will change this . Once again thank you .

SteveVH , Tucson AZ USA

RJ said...

Hey, Steve--

Thanks a lot for your feedback. Much appreciated. I think it's a crime that Klarwein and other "visionary" artists are so thoroughly ignored by the fine art establishment. I'm just trying to play a part, however small, in bringing this work to light.

You mentioned that you run an art gallery... do you/the gallery have a website? If, for some reason, you prefer to remain anonymous, you can contact me at:




Bailey said...

I love this art. The cover art for Bitches Brew is one of my all-time favorite images. I also grew up seeing my parents' Abraxas album, but I never put them together in my head and hadn't come across the artist's name until just now. I'm definitely going to research his work more thoroughly. His crazy vision combined with his skill level is a little awe-inspiring.

RJ said...

Hi Bailey--

Thank you for your comments. I'm glad to be able to help you "put them together".

Another artist you might like is the Austrian visionary artist Ernst Fuchs, who Klarwein studied with. Here is a link to his website:


Artoni said...

Mati is my all time favorite. He continues to influence my art. Very happy that you have this blog, because when you experience his work each time it is a new experience. Some of these pieces are new to me, so that's great. Milk & Honey I've purchased several times and still have one copy today. Even more amazing is that his art came before the CAD. What an accomplished visionary that is supreme amongst all others. Each artist has to discover, uncover their own voice. Abdul Mati Klarwein's voice still compels us all to think & invent and most of all, to love.

Sylvio de Alencar. said...

Muito obrigado.
Happy New Year!