Born in Chilliwack, B.C., Daniel Van Klei was interested in art during his formative years. As a teenager, he developed an interest in flying and began to paint airplanes; his dreams were often filled with romantic notions of being a pilot and travelling through the clouds. Living in rural British Columbia afforded him the opportunity to explore the fields and forests on his own. Accessing other areas or towns meant spending hours in vehicles, and these journeys allowed him to see the majestic landscape pass by, frame by frame, through his car window. He later earned his private pilot’s license and began to experience the world from above, a vantage point that presented the world as abstracted shapes and textures. These early experiences were instrumental in shaping his perception of his subjects, both as a painter and photographer.
Daniel pursued his formal education at Simon Fraser University and completed both a B.A. and a B.Ed. in Visual Art. At university, he liked learning about the history of artists, and while his degree provided him with concrete skills and contextual learning, he became conscious that his main motivation always stemmed from his passion for painting. Says the artist:
“There is always some balance involved with reason over passion, but for me the first impetus is always passion. To use flying as an example, my impetus to fly was to experience flying through the clouds. That is something you can do in your dreams, but when you actually have to do it, you have to balance it with reason –– the weight and balance of the aircraft, fuel considerations, navigation. All need to be taken into account to survive. When you work on a group of paintings, that sort of thing happens as well. When I look up and see the space between trees and feel that passion, I have to make literal considerations when I start painting. When passion is taken too far to the edge, a painting almost falls apart.”
After graduation in 1997, Daniel taught art photography, painting, and general art at the high school level, a vocation he enjoyed immensely. His spare time was spent climbing, hiking, pursuing black and white photography, and painting. His paintings and award-winning photography have garnered attention across Canada and the U.S., particularly in Washington, Seattle, and Ottawa.
Van Klei’s work has been recognized in multiple public collections. Notably, his commission entitled _Golden Oak_ for the late Finance Minister, the Honourable James M. Flaherty, referenced the economic stability of the gold standard through the use of gold metallic paint. The painting was inspired by a tree that survived the bombing of Guernica (a Basque town that was heavily bombed during the Spanish Civil War and subsequently depicted in one of Pablo Picasso’s most recognizable paintings). This lone oak tree survived both the bombings and mass fires untouched, and became a gathering point for politicians and municipal leaders, who would sit under the tree and make important decisions about the rebuilding of their community. The tree provided a natural shelter from the sun and became a universal symbol of hope, survival, and endurance. Van Klei wrote the story on the canvas and then painted over it, which would not be obvious to any observer. While he often thinks about these connections while he paints, he rarely speaks of them so as not to interfere with the viewer’s own response to his work.
Hillebrand Estates Winery, known for crafting fine VQA wines for thirty years, is a longstanding supporter of the arts. The winery selected Van Klei’s painting _Big Sugar II_ for the label of its Artist Series Limited Edition Chardonnay, noting his work represented the diversity of the Canadian culture. In 2010, Van Klei’s painting _Eight Sugar Maples_ formed part of an art installation for the G20 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario.
A tendency towards ambiguity and abstraction in Van Klei’s paintings is often established around more tangible yet elusive elements, such as wind or water; these are deceptively simple elements of the daily human experience, and yet are difficult to describe without using emotional, symbolic references. His work refers to his personal experiences of sensing a space and all of life’s elements. He values the unknown and questions exactly where one is going, with a belief that there are no coincidences.