Confession | Courage | Catharsis
On the surface, Karen Divine’s images feel colorful and playful – and in many ways they are. But as I spent more time with them, they began to take on a more somber and darker tone. There are wounds and secrets here.
Art is a wound turned into light. – Georges Braque
Although Divine’s chosen medium is photography, she works like a painter and a poet. Her artistic vocabulary is reminscent of the animistic lexicon of Holly Roberts, who nominally identifies as a photographer but whose sensibility is deeply embedded in a painterly tradition, and also Squeak Carnwath, whose primal approach to painting, and to collaging and combining visual elements, feels as though it springs from the same creative gene pool as Divine’s.
Karen Divine has very little use for the literal, which makes her choice of photography – inextricably tied to the concrete and the exact – so interesting and infused with a pleasurable tension.
Divine’s images resist and refuse easy interpretation. They are not just metaphorical and symbolic, they are derived from what feels like a very personal set of character glyphs and allegories. These pictures tell stories, unreeling narratives that feel more than just dense – more accuarately, nearly bottomless.
At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer. – Rachel Naomi Remen, MD
The voice in her work is simultaneously personal and universally mythic. An encounter with Divine’s images feels very much like a Tarot card reading. In the Tarot tradition the imagery is complex, with every element infused with a set of dense and deliberate references – there is nothing in the imagery that is inadvertent or accidental. Yet the images present themselves as ambiguous riddles and their interpretation requires more intiution than exactitude.
This open-ended character of Divine’s imagery, its ability to balance on the razor’s edge of emotional clarity and ambiguity is what makes the work feel so deft and facile.
Divine understands, and employs, what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious, that arena of image and imagination that is specific and individual, but also on another level diffuse, general, and communal. This is the source of the pull and tug that these images have – there is a palpable resonance that the work creates on a visceral level. The pictures speak to us, intimately, from that time before there was speech.
This work is conspiratorial, in the sense of the original definition of that word: Conspire (verb) – to breathe together.
The work also has a sublimely confessional quality, with the images operating as artifacts of Divine’s own personal journey, her passage through a landscape marked by fear and trauma, healing and liberation. They are the relics brought back from her passage through a vast and open unknown. Like a shaman, she has returned to offer us charms, talismans, totems – all in the form of images animated by the sacramental.
The leap is the thing. – Karen Divine
Its all here in this imaginary alternate universe. Theater, characters, and drama. Motifs and maps. Humans, animals, hybrid species. Risk and loss, light and darkness. Obfuscation and clarity, mindfulness and waking dreams. Conflagration and mourning, healing and rebirth. Deliverance and sanctuary, forgiveness and gratitude. Courage. Catharsis.
images: © copyright 2016 Karen Divine. No use without permission.
words: © copyright 2016 Joseph Squier. No use without permission.