Saturday, June 3, 2023

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Iowa Artist

Jeff Klisares: “Painting is a place you go.”


Jeff Klisares

Jeff Klisares was intrigued with his Italian grandfather’s unique paintings at a young age. He marveled at the process of the oil, brushes and huge canvases.

“As a child, I saw a painting, and I thought, if this is the way adults behave, count me in. This was like play with all the ‘toys’ these adults had,” he reflects.

The painting of poet laureate Amanda Gorman became popular on Klisares’ Instagram page.

After earning a degree in landscape architecture, he went out West, “chasing the old American West painters” and soaking in the colorful mountain and desert scenery. As he traveled for his business job, a painting career lingered in the back of his mind. A fellow painter told him, to be considered a professional in the art field, it was recommended that he dedicate 15,000 hours to painting experience.

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While frequently visiting art galleries in hopes of selling his work, a gallery owner in La Jolla, California, asked Klisares if he had samples of his paintings. After learning the need to have examples of his artwork, he displayed 12 paintings from his car. 

“The gallery said they like painters from the Midwest because of their hard work ethic,” he says. “They sold all the paintings, and three months later asked if I had any more.” 

He continued to paint and hesitantly returned to his hometown of Des Moines 20 years ago. He explains, “There’s a saying, ‘No man can profit in his hometown.’ That’s hard to get away from that definition as I left my hometown for freedom of expression. I had to overcome that belief.” 

Today, he paints out of his studio at Mainframe Studios. 

The panda helps remind Klisares that life is full of child-like play.

“I was on the wait list for three years to get into Mainframe,” he says. “I’d lost my job, COVID came, and this studio space opened. I’m pleased as a peach to get this space.”

Klisares mostly paints oil on canvas and leans toward traditionalist or realism work more than abstract. He’s embraced Iowa’s scenic landscapes, the state’s rolling hills and cows, and he recently painted a commissioned piece of the Traveler’s umbrella sign, called “Exchange.”

One of Klisares’ more popular paintings is of the junior poet laureate, Amanda Gorman. He’s making a limited print run of the painting. 

“Amanda Gorman was outside my traditional style,” he says. “But I got a tremendous response from people on Instagram.” 

Through the years, he’s learned to avoid over painting. 

“My grandfather said to me, ‘Jeff, put the brush down. It’s finished.’ All that stuff in your mind, you gotta give it up,” he says. 

The reason Klisares paints is simple. 

“Painting is a place you go,” he says. “You have an idea in your mind, and you can’t communicate it or put it into words,” he says. 

Retirement isn’t an option, as Klisares considers himself a lifelong student. 

“My best painting is still inside of me. I’m young at heart. In the end, all I really want to do is paint,” he says. ♦


  1. Hi!
    To clarify a few things, I studied Industrial Engineering and Landscape Architecture at Iowa State but, I ended up with a degree in Business.
    The saying is: “No man is a prophet in his hometown.” If you understand this biblical reference, you understand what I was intending, regarding the perception of doing something in your hometown that might seem unexpected or, out of the ordinary.
    The act of painting is “a place you go.” Yes, you cannot think of yourself or your problems while painting and, time seems to stand still. Four hours may pass by but, to you it seemed like 30 minutes. You get to bend time!
    Thank you.
    Jeff Klisares

  2. Ann Zenor says:

    Such amazing work, Jeff. You’ve certainly made it as an accomplished artist. How fortunate are those who own your work, or better yet, get to watch it evolve from an abstract idea to completed painting filled with rich colors and textures.

  3. To be clear, though I studied Landscape Architecture at ISU, I graduated with a business degree.

    Also, the quote is “No man is a prophet in his hometown.” If you understand this biblical reference, you understand where I was coming from, regarding the perception of doing something unexpected in your hometown.

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