Karen Lamassonne is a painter and video artist who’s lived and worked in the United States, Colombia, France, Germany and Italy. Her solo show, Correspondence 2020, a series of collage paintings that integrate postcards sent from friends around the world, is on exhibit through March 18 at Ger-Art Gallery in Midtown. (Photo by Ana Guzman)
I have always been an optimist. Years ago, while living in Colombia — where I was forced to bear witness to political upheaval, never-ending violence, the narcos, the drug trade, guerrilla warfare and paramilitary groups all culminating in constant death around me — I refused to dwell on pessimism and darkness. Instead, I would look to the light and, in my solitude, I would create works that had the power to lift me out of that darkness.
I didn’t appreciate how critical that practice was until the pandemic forced me to be still and shelter in place. My soulmate had passed away the year before, and sadness and grief threatened to take me places I’d never been before, places I feared I would not be able to escape if I kept losing ground.
Then I found a small beam of light. My friend and I used to write to each other all the time, and I’d saved many letters, postcards and much correspondence sent to me over our decades-long friendship. I had no way of knowing these artifacts would give me shelter one day. But here I am . . . finding refuge in his beautiful words, being elevated by the images he wanted me to see and time-traveling thanks to ideas we shared that take me back and propel me forward. The message is clear, my friend was/is saying to me, “Do something with all of this. It’s going to take you somewhere. It’s going to help you.” Nearly one year later, I have a new collection of paintings comprised of postcards from friends and family, return addresses, stories, seals, calligraphy, ink, stamps and love — layered in soft caresses, brushstrokes and washes of color.
The process of making these paintings was very emotional. At any given moment I might be heartbroken and crying, or happy and laughing as I worked. But the act of doing something good, or something better, lifted me up. I hope anyone who visits my show will feel that levity. I hope they’ll be reminded that optimism, hope, beauty, refinement and joy are always in reach. Most of all, I hope they’ll remember that even when people leave us, they are never really gone because we can revisit them and this can comfort us. We just have to keep going to the light.