This article about Karen A. Klein’s series of Cabinets of Curiosities, by Meredith E. Lewis, first appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.
Many of Karen A. Klein’s paintings nod to an earlier (and older) enthrallment with natural ephemera and rare oddities. Beginning in the 16th century in continental Europe, objects of known and unknown origin were sometimes housed in magnificent “cabinets of curiosities” or “rooms of wonder,” wherein they could be examined for the purpose of classification and for the pure enjoyment of viewing a bevy of riches in a small space.
Recently Karen A. Klein has been decorating her own cabinets with panels painted to depict various phenomena—living, inert and cosmic alike. Her current project is assembling a series of cabinets in her dining room in such a way that the room itself will serve as the grandest cabinet of all—an homage to life and her life’s work as an artist. She’s documenting this project on her blog, roomforcuriosity.blogspot.com.
Adjacent doors on Karen A. Klein’s cabinets suggest taxonomic connections, both real and imagined, and yet the artist’s desire to forge such meaning in her work—to suggest associations between seemingly disparate objects or living things—predates the physical construction of the cabinets themselves. “My son pointed out to me that when I started making actual cabinets of curiosities, I’d already been doing that in my drawing,” she says. “Each piece is a small collection of objects that work together as a narrative.
“What has changed,” Karen A. Klein explains, “is that I’m now combining groups of drawings that need to work as a collection. But actually the project’s even going beyond that to the point where I’m trying to make a whole room work as one piece of art. The outsides and the insides of the cabinets are filled with drawings and objects and books that I’m making. The entire undertaking is very challenging and exciting and might well occupy my thoughts and work for the rest of my life!”
In the images on the doors of the Sky Cabinet (at top), Karen A. Klein connects terrestrial subjects with their partners in the sky. “The Saturniidae moth hovers over the planet Saturn,” she explains. “The emperor scorpion is paired with the constellation Scorpio, and the moon rises with a luna moth.” The artist based the background for each drawing on a photo taken by the Hubble spacecraft.
Mars (above is one of four panels representing planets on the face of the Sky Cabinet. “The planet Mars is paired with the elephant beetle Megasoma mars,” says Karen A. Klein. “The background is an impression of the globular star cluster Omega Centauri.”
Learn More About Karen A. Klein
- “Step-by-Step Flowers in Watercolor and Colored Pencil” – free online demonstration by Karen A Klein
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