Petrina Ryan-Kleid is an Australian born artist who studied at the New York Academy of Art. Since graduating in 2012, she has kept a relatively low profile. One of her artworks has recently gone viral, to her absolute surprise, and she has suddenly found herself part of a political narrative that she never set out to take part in.
Ryan-Kleid’s 2012 painting of Bill Clinton in a blue dress was recently revealed to be in the possessions of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire convicted pedophile who recently died by suicide while in a New York prison. After his death, his house was raided by the FBI and one item of his that was suddenly scrutinized was the painting which he had owned and displayed in his $77m New York City townhouse.
Ryan-Kleid spoke to artnet news, revealing that she has been overwhelmed by the attention and clarified on some misconceptions behind the now-viral work.
“I live a quiet life, and I really just had a naive, newly arrived foreigner’s idea for a thesis,” she said of the work, named Parsing Bill, and its counterpart work of George W. Bush playing with toys and paper airplanes called War Games. “It was just a silly school artwork that was supposed to show, pictorially, the messages we are bombarded with in regards to these presidents.” She confirmed that the blue dress was an obvious reference to Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, which became a symbol and a piece of evidence behind Clinton’s affair with his former intern.
“Since I’m Australian, I wasn’t then, nor am I now, partisan about American politics,” she told artnet News. “At the time, most of my ideas were fresh from the Daily Show or from Australian cable TV.”
Ryan-Kleid got her MFA from from the New York Academy of Art in 2012. The painting was bought from the 2012 Tribeca Ball, a fundraiser that the school puts on, for $1,300. She was never informed of who bought it and only recently found out that it was in the possession of Epstein.
For this particular piece, she had worked with Christophe Nayel, a model who frequently poses for the school’s students since 2001.
“I was absolutely stunned to find out that Epstein bought her painting during a major event at the school,” Nayel told artnet News. “Some past students even recognized my legs in that painting.”
The painting was quickly connected to Ryan-Kleid after it was revealed because she had uploaded it to her artist profile on the Saatchi Art website. At the time, she was only trying the platform out, which allows artists to sell prints of their works directly to consumers. “I was trying out that Saatchi site years ago, in 2013, and the only uploadable photo I had at the time was Bill,” she explained.
Since the image went viral, she tried unsuccessfully to take her profile down, but the system was unresponsive. She said that there was a lot of demand for prints of the work, which Saatchi processes, but she hadn’t yet decided if she will keep the money.