Reclaiming What We Know About Life

The Lionheart Gallery
Jun 2, 2017 5:51PM

Karen Vogel's New Works at The Lionheart Gallery

by Douglas P. Clement

Effective communication takes place through many different modes of expression, most of them nonverbal. Connecticut artist Karen Vogel chooses the term Typographical Abstraction to describe a main body of work whose implied meanings are embedded like pure emotion in a visual language of shapes, lines, symbols, letters, and, sometimes, entire words.

The two mixed-media-on-wood-panel works that open her exhibit Postscript, running through July 2 at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y., are among the strongest pieces in the show and illustrate how deftly Vogel deploys medium to buoy message.

“Roma,” with its geometric and fluid shapes in black, taupe and ivory, has the weight of classical elegance and suggests the geography of an empire. The sideways word “is” near the center feels like a declaration of not only bold existence but also a perpetuation of that robust status. “Is” in Latin, the language of Roma, is est, and one university primer on the verb begins by saying, “Let us begin with being.”

Roma, Karen Vogel

Worlds Apart, Karen Vogel

It’s a sentiment both simple and profound, and one that resonates deeply for Karen Vogel, whose work summons the symbolism of print, typography, and architectural and organic forms “to explore the monumental shifts that have emerged from the breakdown of social cohesion—the infrastructure that supports social structure and communication that links us as social beings.”

In other words, we’ve lost our sense of “being,” and Vogel is determined to do her part to stop the devolution. The artist’s interplay of positive and negative spaces creates tension between what she describes as cohesion and disorder, with the agitation caused by chaos chafing against order defining Vogel’s artistic voice.

In “Worlds Apart,” a thin red line enters the visual equation, segregating a half-circle around an inner sanctum from outlying districts in a landscape reflective of modern times; worlds, as in countries and societies, are now separated by dogma, policy and walls erected by hard-liners.

Sidewinder I, Karen Vogel

Sidewinder II, Karen Vogel

At this moment in history, especially, the overarching evil at the heart of societal dissolution is a shared failure to communicate. In Postscript, any suggestion of geopolitical tensions is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The breakdown of meaningful discourse and interaction is much more fundamental and global for Vogel—and she rages against by building a new world order on a base of hand-cut stencils embellished with layers of multiple forms, textures, patterns, and processes.

By the time you reach “Sidewinder” and “Memorial Park,” two of the nine monoprints joining the 11 mixed-media-on-wood-panel works in the exhibit, the catharsis they offer feels perfect.

Without “saying” a word, “Sidewinder” powerfully conveys the vibrancy and decorum of the Jazz Age, while “Memorial Park,” feels like a gilded lobby in an elegant skyscraper and all the buttoned-up affirmation and aspiration that implied. Suddenly you remember why “being” and being present are so vital.

Ace Monoprint, Karen Vogel

Memorial Park, Karen Vogel

Mixed Signals, Karen Vogel

Purple Haze, Karen Vogel

A couple of weeks after Postcript opened, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle gave a commencement talk at Harvard University touching on themes covered in her latest book, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” which investigates “how a flight from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity.”

“We need to reclaim what we know about life,” she said, according to a story in Harvard Magazine. “When we reclaim our attention, our solitude, and our friendship, we will have a better chance to reclaim our communities, our democracy, and our shared common purpose. We had a love affair with a technology that seemed magical. But like great magic, it worked by commanding our attention and we took our attention off each other. Now we are ready, across the generations, to remember who we are: creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships, and of conversations artless, risky, and face-to-face. The choice ahead will not be easy, but perhaps neither hard nor easy, but those other opposites of easy: complex, evolved, and demanding. It’s time to make the corrections, and take stock of all the skills we'll need—and of how little technology is going to help us unless we remember all the things we know about life and living.”          

I Spy, Karen Vogel

Cross Fit, Karen Vogel

Crossover, Karen Vogel

Professor Turkle’s words perfectly sum up the themes and hopes of Postcript. You can take stock by seeing this exhibit; your future equilibrium may depend on it.

Postscript continues through July 2, with a talk by the artist scheduled for June 10 in an event from 4 to 6 p.m.

The Lionheart Gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information and directions to the gallery at 27 Westchester Avenue in Pound Ridge, N.Y., visit the website at or call the gallery at 914.764.8689.

The Lionheart Gallery