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Exhibition Essay
April 24, 2020

Deborah Caiola’s ‘Muses, Guardians, and Saints’

About the Author
Deborah Kostianovsky

See the exhibition here


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Deborah Caiola’s video walkthrough of the exhibition Muses, Guardians, and Saints and the extensive interview with the artist allows us a portal into a hauntingly beautiful, deeply spiritual collection of artworks. Given that Caiola’s live exhibit was cut short due to the pandemic, InLiquid was able to add these video components to bring the essence of the experience to the viewer.  The exhibit is a collection of fifteen large works, about a dozen smaller works, and several immediate takeaway purchases, each exploring characters that represent universal facets of human nature, or archetypes. Virtually “walking” around the InLiquid exhibition space is like setting foot in a mystical, otherworldly setting filled with organically driven shapes which coalesce into drawings and paintings of multiple fanciful, surreal characters. The large gallery space is also filled with organically shaped wood furnishings, flowing wall paintings, and even a large tree stump, as if catapulting us into a haunted, dreamlike woods. As we get to the large back wall emblazoned with the artist statement in her own jagged handwriting, it feels as if we are in an enchanted forest, a universally implicit image that is filled with magic, mystery, and even transformation.
An explanation of Caiola’s creative process sets the groundwork to understand the complex, spiritual characters in each of her works. She talks about her creative process in her interview with Clare Finin, Program Director at InLiquid. When painting portraiture in the past, Caiola would feel her painting was nearing completion when resemblance to the person she was painting would begin to emerge. More recently, she states her process has changed to become more internally driven and intuitive: “What happens when you give up all the rules and you create improvisationally? …you create out of your head in a way that keeps you in the moment and working almost like a meditation… [it] became less about the outcome and more about the experience of painting.” And the result includes highly imaginative, unique forms. She adds: “I create organic forms and imbue them with anthropomorphic ideas and concepts, mostly related to social and spiritual themes.” Almost like the free association of psychoanalysis which allows illumination of hidden inner truths, her process seems to get at a deeper, more raw, and mystical reality. In the large white space of the InLiquid Gallery, her paintings yearned for added context. To add to the plain area surrounding her works, she embellished the walls with murals reminiscent of the patterns found in the work itself and hand wrote her artist statement in charcoal on a large wall. She was also lent the organically shaped furniture from friends at the Groundwork Company.
Each of these large paintings of characters convey various archetypal identities. The large painting size allows the viewer to be engulfed by their presence, to enter another realm, perhaps a world which ignites unconscious, even repressed ideas. Since these archetypes of identities are universal, the viewer may (perhaps unconsciously) recognize themselves or resonate with some of the works and not others. Every character differs, but has a duality conveyed within each, as the drives and forces that create our identity are often at opposing ends of the spectrum and may exist simultaneously within each of us. For example, Despair clearly conveys the concept of despair with bony hands covering a face that is moving into a swirling dark pool which seems to convey an abyss. The drawing, however, seems to be brighter near the top and get darker as it moves toward the abyss. There is a bird perched near one of the hands, perhaps offering peace. Caiola notes this drawing is representative of the duality of despair and hope, and is subtitled vision: abyss, as if confirming the total darkness of the abyss, and the opposing notion of vision, or perhaps brightness and hope. She continues: “People move between all of these ways of being…I feel we are multidimensional, ever-changing, many things…” She further notes that “by acknowledging our potential, as well as our dualities, we cultivate balance within ourselves.” We are not static; instead, our inner landscape is constantly changing.
a sculpture of a person with a beard
Despair, Deborah Caiola
A closer look at several exquisitely detailed drawings and paintings further illuminates her notion of archetypal identities and the dualities within them. A work entitled Leader and subtitled power: vulnerability was started around the time she was starting her new position as Art Department Chair at Friends Select School and was contemplating the meaning of leadership. As Caiola states: “The leader greets you with an expression of compassion. A mountain lion adorns her head representing courage, intuition, and strength. Her epaulets represent her social ranking: The herb rue for grace and clear vision; bluebell for humility and kindness. She holds one hand to herself in self-awareness, self-possession, and independence. The other, wielding energetic power, she extends to you. Empowering others is her greatest ability.” In Artist we see a woman surrounded by devices to reflect the world, such as a camera and a mirror, as well as devices with which to leave one’s own mark on the world, such as a musical instrument and what appears to be paintbrushes in her hair. It is subtitled Mirror: Hammer, such apt metaphors for the artist who simultaneously reflects inner and outer worlds, yet also creates new worlds. Per Caiola, this is representative of the artist as both builder and reflector. “You are like a sponge, you are taking it in. Art is a good way of moving it out so you don’t just sit. Art is a way of showing what’s coming at me …turning the mirror around and showing what I see in myself and the world.” And that mirror is brimming with fascinating ideas and images.
Artist, Deborah Caiola

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