Juliet Karelsen: Recent Work
After my father died in 2013 the responsibility fell to me to disassemble the apartment where he'd lived in New York City for 49 years. This was the same (beloved) apartment where my sister and I grew up, where we lived as a family of four (along with my mother, who died in 2007). As I sorted through everything -- the baby shoes, the pots and pans and plates and cutlery and silver and vases and tea sets, the broken blenders, the whisks and wooden spoons, the books and LPs, the once-white-now-yellow linen tablecloths that belonged to my grandmother from Germany, the porcelain figurines, the paintings, the sheets and towels, the photo albums, the black socks my father wore when he worked as a lawyer, the old toothbrushes and pill bottles and unused Depends, the sweat pants and red fleece jackets my father wore the last few of his 86 years, the candles, the hammers and screwdrivers, the saved toys for the grandchildren, the art projects my sister and I had made as kids, the "important" papers and old bills, my dad's framed diplomas and NYC Law BAR certification, my old diaries, my mother's journals and stories she had written for her writing class at The New School, the saved newspaper clippings and black-and-white headshot photos of my mother as an actress, the Christmas ornaments and VCR tapes and on and on and on and on, I took note of the items that resonated and either kept them, or took a photo of them. The pieces in this body of work entitled The Apartment are responses to these objects using various media.
In the mood of sympathy greeting cards I painted a portrait of each person who cared for my father during the last three months of his life. Each painting is 7” X 5”, the size of a sympathy card, a “comforting pink.”
I was struck by how many people were involved to help with the care of this frail, ailing 86-year-old man.
There was a brief window of time during these months when my father repeatedly asked “When is she coming?” He told the family that the “she” was Miss America. My cousin Douglas (dad’s nephew) came up with the thought that Miss America represented the Angel of Death. So each time my father asked “When is she coming?” I replied “Well, are you ready for her?” His responses varied: “Well, not quite,” or “I think soon,” or “No. Not ready at all.” It was amazing how the metaphor seemed to work for him.
My father died August 27th after fifteen years of being miserable and depressed and stating many times each day “I want to die.”
The lichen “paintings” are metaphors and small messengers that call attention to the beauty of the environment and its need for preservation and protection. Loosely titled “lichens” they are sketches of changing light, hues, textures, and lines of the plants, lichens, mushrooms, mosses, and landscapes small and large around us. Like nature they provide surprises--unexpected juxtapositions, odd compositions, tiny startling detail.
In a world where daily interaction with nature is increasingly rare, even disappearing, these pieces point to the importance of taking the time to slow down, notice, and protect the jewels of the forest. Crossing genres between painting, stitching, tapestry, rug making, and embroidery, these small pieces reference abstract art, fantasy, landscape, textile, miniature worlds, and even science, from botany to mycology. Are they details from an abstract expressionist painting? A bird’s eye view of a gnome’s forest? A detail from an environmental biologist’s sketchbook? Or the inner workings of a unicorn tapestry?
I made these crayon rubbings from the 25 pairs of gloves that belonged to my grandmother and which I discovered in a box stashed away in my mother’s closet when I was clearing out the apartment. My family called my grandmother “Oma” (the German word for grandmother) because she was from Germany. She and her Jewish husband (my Opa) emigrated to the United States in 1935 with their two young children. Thegloves represent the fashions and priorities of a different generation. My grandmother was not a wealthy woman by any means, but clearly a collection of gloves of various sizes, styles, and colors was an important part of her carefully selected wardrobe. There is a feeling of absence, of memory, of her ghost and spirit in these rubbings.