"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 anything guiding their judgments too directly.
But of course, I kept self-portraiture out of the conversation as well 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 starting point, always. But therein also lies my curiosity in how others respond to the work without anything else interfering; how they relate to it in the purest sense.
Now however I feel that knowing that the work is self-portraiture 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, 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, my work is very process oriented, and I tend to work from a place of intuition, impulse, and spontaneity, wherein little is planned out prior to beginning a work. 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. The sensual and intuitive nature of painting, and the “surrealist automatism” inherent in my own process, are for me the consummate conjuration method for locating, visualizing, and describing the images in my deepest psyche. Thematically, my imagery is of the “monstrous feminine”, rendered in a style that incorporates a unique blend of expressionism and surrealism, and the outcome is at once illustrative, fantastical, abstracted, unsettling, and cryptic.
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:
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 composing experimental electronic music and gourmet cooking. In her spare time she likes reading, playing retro JRPGs, and binge-watching absurd adult animation.