Sailing to a New Arcadia
Kaelen Green's drawings offer passage to a different world
A few years back Kaelen Green drove the expanse of desert on I-25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. She was on her way to pick up a friend from the Sunport. “I felt this irritation in my head,” she described. “I realized I didn't want the exit to come because something was unfolding in my mind … It didn't feel like I was actively making something up, it felt like watching a film. That was the first time that I saw scenes from the book that I'm now calling Asphodel.”
Asphodel itself is a mythical island off the coast of San Francisco in Green's vision. The story she felt unfolding on that momentous drive takes place in the forests of the island and the seas surrounding it. The story is fantastical, populated by ascetics and feral children. The text of the work in progress outlines the story of an orphan queen called Red and the seaworthy explorer Henry Cavendish. Bound to the texts are richly detailed drawings that bring to life the dreamy, watery realm of Asphodel.
Yet, Green resisted being full transported to that island otherworld in her work for over a year after the mystical revelation of the story came to her. “I didn't know what to do with it,” she said. “It wasn't a single image, it was much more complex. It was clear [that] it had a narrative, but I didn't feel confident in my ability to bring the story forward, so I avoided it … but it just haunted me all the time.” And so, about a year later, she “sat down with it and said, 'OK, I'll do my best.'” Five years have passed since that pivotal moment, and the illustrations for Asphodel—each of which takes hundreds of hours to complete—are now seeing the light for the first time in Green's latest show, An Island Emerging, at the Inpost Artspace at Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE).
Green has been inclined to create from a very young age. “I was oriented to being an artist even when I was very small,” she explained. She drew, wrote poetry, painted and danced, but at the age of 10, an injury left her paralyzed. “I was paralyzed on my right side and I was right handed,” she clarified. The horrifying reality of “not having your [most] reliable tool, your hand” is an experience that is consistently relevant to Green's work, even if it isn't always apparent to viewers. Instead of giving up her creative work, Green trained herself to use her left hand, and started to “focus much more on the less physical kinds of artistry, the writing and drawing, that I could still do.”
For the past five years, that artistry has been channeled into Asphodel, which will later take the form of a book, written and illustrated entirely by Green. She's mostly kept the labor intensive drawings—which she culls from the blank page with a time intensive method of multi-layered shading—closely under wraps. “For a long time I wouldn't even tell anybody about it,” she explained, but working in isolation for so long can be difficult, so the finished pieces have found a temporary home at the Inpost. “This is the first time that this thing that I've been devoting hundreds of hours and so much of my internal imagination to [is] being exposed to a public audience. The energy that comes out of that is so exciting to me.” All of the works that are currently completed are on display at An Island Emerging until June 25, with an artist's reception the evening of June 3.
New works have been stalled of late—Green is in the process of a move to Albuquerque from Santa Fe and “there's just not enough hours in the day” not to mention that she's 6'2”—“it's hard to be bending over a table, it's not so good for my back,” she laughed.
As a last thought, I asked Green if she felt any disconnect, living in the desert while in her work she is engulfed in islands and seas. In response, she described her childhood in coastal California—“The Eden-like experience of being a young child in the woods … it felt very beautiful and adventurous … That has a mythical pull on my imagination.” Her reminiscence on childhood perfectly summates An Island Emerging too—singularly beautiful, full of adventure, and sure to continue tugging at your imagination long after you're parted from this dreamy world.