Last weekend was the opening for my solo show Liminal Beings at Copro Gallery, and I wanted to share a bit about the work.
Here is my statement for the exhibition:
Liminal beings are those that cannot easily be placed into a single category of existence. Associated with the threshold state of liminality, they represent and highlight the semi-autonomous boundaries of the social world. These new works were spawned in recent times during the lockdowns that started in 2020. These Liminal Beings are depictions of conglomerations of emotional responses to these times, when often it’s been difficult to process what’s happening in the world.
This series of paintings is a heartfelt poem to the darkness, the chaos, and the unknown. Each of these Liminal Beings defines an acknowledgement and acceptance of the unfamiliar and the different, the deep-down, rawness of humanity that all of us share but so many stifle or cast aside. If these paintings have stirred a curiosity or a pause to wonder for a moment, then they have evoked a response that could lead to the possibility of a broader acceptance, a connection, and becoming a bit closer to what humanity truly is.
Like with humans, there is a story in these beings that shifts and evolves as the viewer spends time experiencing them. Liminal Beings are the threshold, a bridge to an acceptance of the unknown and a chance at understanding one another.
“Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will himself sound the depths of his own being.”
– Rainer Marie Rilke
These paintings were started with the intention of being a personal project focusing on exploration and digging deeper in my work. In the beginning, I did not know I would be having a solo show. When I’d first started them, these paintings were a way for me to take a step back from myself and what I paint, and to find a way forward in the process.
These last couple of years have been a challenge for everyone. I found myself with many feelings about everything happening that I didn’t quite know how to express. This was a common feeling among us all in some way or another. I subconsciously made this my focus and continued to show up each day to paint about it. To paint through it. I just kept showing up and making these, not knowing what they would be but very aware of what they were doing for me personally. They were challenging me, and by doing that they were helping me, and I went into making the work knowing that as long as I kept showing up, they would continue to do that for me.
Each of these paintings in this show is about all of us. (Hence, the lack of intentional singular faces or figures. I just kept feeling that that wouldn’t make sense). In a broad sense, they are about life which can be messy and strange and difficult and beautiful, and when we get through and take a look at it all, it’s a continuous mix of all sorts of emotions and experiences. Each one of these Liminal Beings is the internal working through of what that means.
This work was about listening, observing, and responding, and about gaining an understanding of myself as well as others by approaching it with those intentions. I’ve had all sorts of interesting and varied responses to the finished paintings, too, and that’s all so much a part of the experience as well.
I made these over a span of time while I had other work I was doing for commissions and group shows, mentoring and teaching. I just made sure I gave these paintings as much attention as I could each day, steadily building on them when I could. None of it was a waste of time, even if I was sometimes challenged by what I was making or some paintings didn’t go as I had thought they might. None of it was time I didn’t have, even if I might have thought I didn’t have the time when I first started them. Everything that is a part of my day went into these paintings, even the parts I wasn’t sure should or would make sense to.
All these Liminal Beings paintings have been cathartic and several were an overcoming of the difficult things. They’re depictions of reactions to the events of the world around us, each one represents a mix of very human emotional states, a broader observation of humanity, the human condition, what I’ve observed not only in my own emotional states and reactions to what’s happening but they are also observations of all of us and how so much stirs such vast differences in emotional states in us all – all being very valid but quite varied.
All kinds of different things find their way into personal work. It’s inevitable. What became integral in the making of these paintings was to not shut out the outside world but to allow the work to show what parts of the external world get woven in. There were a lot of things I fought, and I learned from noticing that. I had intended for this to be a way to sort things through, as the external world seemed so unfathomable and incomprehensible. It was a struggle often in the beginning, and the struggle tapered off as I kept going. In hindsight, it made sense not to attempt to curate the experience somehow, as they became more meaningful attempts of visualizing how these thoughts and emotions would get folded into each piece.
The opening went very well, and I really enjoyed hearing the various responses to the paintings from everyone who came out for the show. There are 24 new paintings total that I did for this show. The paintings shown here are just a few of them. If you’d like to see the entire body, you can find them all online here: Vanessa Lemen: “Liminal Beings” or visit Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, CA.
The show runs through November 27th along with two other fantastic solo shows by Dave Lebow: “Hallucinations and Dreams” and Jason Limon: “Persona”
Very cool! I find these pretty frightening, actually. Like maybe what Machine Elves look like! https://doubleblindmag.com/machine-elves-clockwork-elves-dmt-rick-strassman-terence-mckenna/
oh that’s really cool! Thanks for sharing. Interesting that you find them frightening, and that you’d find Machine Elves frightening looking. Some come from a place of more difficulty and some come from a place of something really beautiful and not frightening at all, but they’re really all about a complex combination of emotions. I found this quote from that article you linked to be relevant to these paintings. “The function of the beings is to communicate, and what they communicate is information,” he says. “Their shape or form may contain that information, but more importantly, there is an exchange, a relationship between the observer and the beings, sometimes verbal, sometimes nonverbal. Then it’s up to our mind, our intellect, to decipher the communication, to extract meaning from it.” ..So I’d say if someone finds them frightening or pleasing or anything else they might feel, that would be more about them than the beings or the artist’s experience with them. That’s my interpretation about that, at least. And that’s definitely what my intention was with the sharing of them. I have been really moved by what many people have shared with me about them, and that’s been wonderfully varied and heartening. Thanks so much. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and that article. 🙂