BIO & ARTIST STATEMENT
Karoline Schleh has her studio in New Orleans. Her drawings, paintings, and prints are rendered with a distinct atmospheric quality and longhand backwards script, which she has developed over the past 25 years. Her compositions are inspired by study of handwriting, landscape, animal & human form, songs and storytelling. In these works, handwriting functions as both word and image, highlighting its connections to drawing, observation, and contemplation. Series that she has worked on throughout her career include, “Smoke Songs”, “Smoke Butterflies”, “Boat Tracings”, and “Writing Letters”.
Schleh became interested in handwriting at a young age when her immigrant grandmother encouraged her to copy an antiquated German cursive alphabet used in her grandmother’s native Black Forest village. Although the exercise was intended to teach and preserve the history of this alphabet, the experience also cultivated Schleh’s love of copying intricate and unfamiliar letterforms, as well as her interest in the ways in which various handwriting styles and alphabets shift and disappear with time.
The “flipped script” that Schleh uses evolved from her training as a printmaker. She began writing backwards on her copper etching plates out of necessity, so that the words in the final print would appear in the right direction. Eventually, she abandoned her print plates and the handwriting reversals began to stand on their own in her drawings and paintings. While the words can (for the most part) be deciphered in a mirror, knowing what is written is not essential to the experience of the work; rather, Schleh’s works aim to convey the reflective mindset that comes from the process of writing, and the recognition that the meanings of words shift over time.
Schleh received her BFA from Tulane in 1990. As an undergraduate at Newcomb she studied painting and drawing, and credits Professor James Steg for encouraging her to extend her experiments in these disciplines through the investigative processes of printmaking. In 1994 she received an MFA in Printmaking from Louisiana State University, and subsequently went to work with the Vinalhaven Press in Maine, where she had the opportunity to work with master printers editioning for Robert Indiana, Alison Saar, and Jose Bedia. Schleh continued edition printing at Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking workshop in New York City, where she collaborated with other artists and writers and worked as Outreach Coordinator to conduct workshops for the community. Upon returning to New Orleans, Schleh designed and built the print studio now located in the New Orleans School of GlassWorks, where she taught classes on printmaking and bookbinding. Schleh has taught courses in drawing, painting, printmaking, and bookbinding at Loyola, Tulane, Delgado, and served for 12 years as the Director of Exhibitions for the Collins C. Diboll Art Gallery at Loyola.
Schleh is represented by Ann Connelly Fine Art in Baton Rouge and by Callan Contemporary in New Orleans. She has artwork in the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana State Museum, and The New Orleans Arts Council, as well as in numerous private collections. She has received grants from the Pollock Krasner Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, and Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation. Works included in the permanent collection at NOMA are a series of four etchings made in collaboration with New York poet Marcella Durand from 2000, and the chapbook, “Mistah Leary He Dead” by Hunter S. Thompson, which she co-designed, hand letter-pressed and hand-bound in an edition of 326 copies for Perdido Press and X-Ray books in 1997.
Karoline Schleh - Smoke Drawings
“Fumage” is a term used early on to describe smoke drawings. Surrealist Wolfgang Paalen was one of the most well known artists to have experimented with this method and some Victorian artists also worked this way.
With my smoke drawings I combine the natural mark of the flame in a similar fashion to cross hatching, and layering techniques I utilize with pencil or charcoal. I combine this drawing method with my backward script and painting to create a sense of reflective space and depth in my compositions. Working with smoke/flames is more labor intensive than standard drawing materials because of the tricky nature of the medium, i.e. I need to be careful not to catch the piece on fire.
Karoline Schleh ~ "Mirror Writing",~ Dr. Elizabeth Howie, Ph. D Art History, University of North Carolina
Karoline’s work attests to what may be imperceptible to the living – the shifts in handwriting style that can make 100-year-old letters nearly illegible to untrained contemporary viewers, even if written in the reader's native tongue. And, perhaps, to the eventual possibility of the loss of languages themselves, as when the news announces, all too often, that the last native speaker of yet another indigenous language has died. Karoline’s gestural reversals, which in truth can be deciphered, nevertheless raise the question of our assumptions about decipherability, literacy, and more broadly, communication in general: its effectiveness, possibilities, and potential for misunderstanding, but also to the beauty of the forms of signifiers, spoken or written, when freed from obligation to their signifieds. Karoline’s word ghosts call our attention to the potentials of words: words set to music, or words in a poem whose weighty presence expands exponentially when liberated from daily use and given the chance to fully mean, and yet also to be part of a powerful and deliberate slippage of meaning from word to word. They remind us that, since we can’t not try to read them, that we are born into language as into the air we breathe, and that our psyches, our neural connections, are formed and changed based on the words around us. As much as water or carbon, we are formed by words, made of words and their echoes. Reversed, Karoline's letters and words lose their specific signification and are free to evoke letters - that is, epistles, not characters - and the already antiquated joy of seeing the handwriting of one's beloveds.