Personal Statement

by Helen Klebesadel


I believe the act of art making can be an act of self-determination and empowerment. My paintings examine how in re-claiming, re-visioning, and re-membering ourselves as whole people we bring our art, our actions, and our voices to the world. In all my art making I examine how awareness occurs on the path to finding creative and critical voice when we recognize that our place in the world is a part of larger social patterns.

My paintings examine the contradictions I have found when my experience of reality has been in conflict with what I have been taught to expect by the dominant culture around me. I am particularly concerned with examining those things that have been polarized into negatives and positives, much as feminine and masculine have been separated into opposites instead of being viewed as equally valued parts of a healthy whole.

I layer my paintings with references to many things: art history, Greek myth, literary and social theories, cultural icons, folklore and personal experience, in the hopes of giving the widest possible access to their themes. Few people will "read" every reference, but quilters may recognize the Tree of Life quilt pattern in a work and consider it a reference to concepts beyond the image itself. Snake fanciers will see that most of the snakes I use are harmless reptiles that aid farmers in controlling pests.

My paintings are the place in which I most directly explore where individual identity and cultural expectation meet. Post-modern and feminist theories contend that identity, indeed, all knowledge, is socially constructed. What does this imply for me as a Euro-American woman; as an artist? What learned social patterns do I wish to discard? Which do I wish to embrace? What new patterns can be created?

Our stories, myths and tales teach us what is expected of us. I am fascinated by how our myths and stories teach us who we are supposed to be, and how we are supposed to act and interact. I seek to understand the old myths and find the new ones as we create new social patterns to live by. In my work, "facing Medusa" has become a metaphor for me of the acceptance and integration of those things in myself I have been taught to devalue or fear. In Greek mythology we are told that Medusa was a woman so powerful her glance could turn men to stone. Her head was cut off and used as a weapon. It was not her power, but who controlled it that was at issue. To me facing Medusa means re-examining the definitions of our euro- and andro-centric culture. It means facing those things in myself that have paralyzed me.

An additional theme that threads through my work is the power of creative and visual art to bring our voices into the cultural dialogues. The Wallflower Muse series examines the place of art in bringing our ideas to a world that has often silenced our voices. They, each in their own way, present the art act as a refusal to be silenced. My recent works, Social Patterns, visualize the way in which the patterns we have had laid on us may direct our actions, and how important and powerful both the urge and the action can be in the creation and re-creation of a culture.

In my art and my life I am attempting to re-member my Medusas. In so doing, I am taking back the power of self definition, of action. In the act of facing, I am re-claiming, re-visioning, and re-membering myself as a whole person.