"Kaelin exploits the endless potential for attraction and revulsion inherent in the human form and its products. Delighting in the visual pleasure and tactile satisfaction to be found in decay, she acknowledges markers of conventional female beauty only to twist and distress them. Aware of the complexities of difference, she echoes chosen dualities in her paintings: is that mouth a wound? Does blood glitter? Can beauty menace? Might the abject bring joy?"
-Simon Anderson; Associate Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Although having always created self-portraits, it wasn’t until recently that I came to deliberately call my work, all my work, self-portraiture.
Most explanations of the conceptual core of my work focused on the monstrous feminine, or the dichotomies of the beautiful and the abject, the sacred and the profane.
While accurate, the true core of my work goes deeper still, but I intentionally kept it out of the conversations I had about my work, the way I explained the work to others, and even sometimes to myself. Often my conceptual explanations were vague, but purposefully so. I was interested in what my images evoked and provoked in the viewer without any declarative context guiding their judgments too directly.
But of course, I kept self-portraiture out of the conversation because I didn’t want to talk about myself; I did not want to feel obligated to explain how I fit into these often disturbing images. I did not want to be vulnerable in that way.
But the deepest core of the work is that it is, irrevocably, self-portraiture. Specifically, it is self-portraiture of the the psyche; yes, my own psychic experience is the initial seed, always. But therein also lies my curiosity in how others respond to the work without personal specificity interfering; how they relate to it in the purest sense.
Now however I feel that knowing that the work is self-portraiture, and how it is and why it is, only enhances its depth of meaning and ability to be impactful.
Working with the raw materials of my own psyche; my inner monsters, my shadow self (selves), the strange mixing and co-mingling of archetypes in my own psychic landscape; my work documents my ongoing process of finding meaning in and understanding of my own self and my own consciousness, on both a quotidian level and a trans-dimensional/transcendental level, and always curious of the ways in which the imagery that comes from such a deeply personal place can be felt and understood on a universally human level.
As a painter, the creation of a painting itself is primarily process oriented, and I tend to work from a place of intuition, impulse, and spontaneity. Concretely planning out work prior to beginning is intentionally limited, although the exact degree of necessary visual or conceptual preparation will vary from piece to piece, and I have gradually extended and intensified my initial ideations and conceptual questions as my work has grown in complexity of both form and content. A simple way of putting this is intentionally "trying not to overthink it", when in fact it is in my nature to overthink everything.
In the act of painting itself, I like to “feel” my way through a painting, working with the images in an intuitive fashion, allowing the process of painting to continually shift and alter the images during their creation. It is in this method that I can mindfully embrace the context or emotive state that I am working to manifest through the image-building. Inherent in this process is my experience of a "flow state", or perhaps, a meditative trance. In many ways it can be interpreted as a kind of dissociative state, a state I frequently find myself involuntarily caught in. One key difference between these two instances of dissociative state is that one is voluntarily created and coaxed, while the other is an involuntary reaction to extreme anxiety and overwhelm on a sensory, emotional, and mental level. However, through my act of painting, this dissociative state, and the image-building itself, is created by repetitive, gradual, and accumulative actions and their consequences over time. During this, I am present with my emotions to the point of detachment from everything else, and I concurrently process them in real time through the automatic act of painting.
This “surrealist automatism” inherent in my own process is the consummate conjuration method for locating, visualizing, and describing the images in my deepest psyche, and therefore manifesting them into physical reality. This creates for me understanding, meaning, and a kind of always-in-flux resolution to the turmoil of chronic emotional dysfunction, delusional thinking, and anxiety. Upon manifestation on canvas or in another form, my imagery is distinctly of the “monstrous feminine”. Incorporating a unique blend of expressionism and surrealism, the outcome is at once illustrative and fantastical, and abstracted and unsettling, and the rich details and glowing colors remain cryptic in the ambiguities they fade in and out of describing.
My last artist statement, while void of mention of self-portraiture, still rightly coalesces my most primordial motivations and need for painting and creating, on an emotional and psychological level, as relevant to the dissociative flow state of painting and the necessity of the work and the act of making itself:
I paint because I must, because there is too much within my mind and my heart to be contained within my own self; I paint because I must express, I must expunge, this filthy excess of feeling and fear and wonderment and beauty. I paint because I am overwhelmed, I am at the mercy of chaos, and I must develop an order to this chaos, to channel it, to make sense of it, to find the most strange beauty in it. I paint so that I don’t lose touch with myself and my being. I paint to create meaning where there may not be meaning. I paint to create beauty out of the most abject matter; I paint to find and reveal and revel in the beauty of the abject. I paint because life, its chaos and misery and fear and shear beauty and abundance and fecundity, are more than I can bear. I paint because I want to show the beauty in the darkness, and the darkness in the beauty. I paint because the dualities of life and nature are unfathomably awesome and infinitely complex and I must distill my baffled adoration of these by pushing colored mud around on a surface or else I will disconnect and dissociate entirely from myself and the rest of existence. I paint to both keep the void at bay, and to honor the immensely incomprehensible nature of the void.
b. 1985, Cincinnati, OH, USA
Emily Kaelin is a painter and mixed media artist who earned a BFA from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver, CO in 2008, and her MFA from the Burren College of Art in Co. Clare, Ireland in 2011. She has been exhibiting her work both nationally and internationally for over 10 years. In addition to painting and art-making, Emily has worked as an art educator and graphic designer, and has spent over a decade devoting time to prolifically composing experimental electronic music and gourmet cooking.
Though the phrase "high-functioning" could be used to describe her outward presentation regarding living with bipolar, anxiety, and other mental disorders, her art practice is based specifically and mindfully around the concept that art-making, both in process and in tangible result, allows her a natural (yet carefully and incessantly developed) method for managing the consistent challenges with her mental health and wellbeing; art and creation are considered more than mere hobbies, or more than simple professions, goals, or academic subjects, but they are rather an intentional life-practice used as a crucial, indeed necessary, survival method. Her work is very much a way to find meaning, beauty, and worthiness in a physical reality where she often feels bereft of meaning, full of pain, and unworthy in the eyes of the world in which she lives.
In her spare time she likes reading, playing retro JRPGs, and binge-watching absurd adult animation, and spends ample time honing and appreciating humor as a coping mechanism.