Kelly Steltz

Oil on canvas. 22″ x 28″.

Artist Statement

This semester, I began bringing my studies of light, color, the figure, and skeletal forms into conversation with the visual motifs in Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth. A labyrinth is a spiraling path, often unicursal, that leads to a single center. The visual and temporal elements of the film operate in both labyrinthine and maze-like ways. Some go further to obliterate the structural and functional commonplaces of both labyrinths and mazes. I am particularly invested in how the crystal orbs and the disorienting, nonsensical architectural landscapes (based on M.C. Escher’s drawings) move and fall apart. These motifs queer the spatiotemporal conditions of the film. Time and space extend in all directions at once — beckoned, transgressed, and shattered by an utterance, a memory, or a desire that in an instant sends one elsewhere.

In August, I went to walk in a Classical 7-Circuit labyrinth at a garden near my home. The brick middle looked like an oviparous shark’s egg capsule. The center spun out in dust and crimson, forming the spiraling path through the paver gravel-covered ground. The image of the shark egg capsule stayed with me, and I began to associate this particular labyrinth with something that is not yet born. I thought about how we can experience something, and remain unable to process the event or its impact until much later. Like the film’s principle character, Sarah, we might gain access to a memory, and subsequently the ability to narrate our lived realities. Both Labyrinth and labyrinths offer their architectures to nonlinear experiences of time, to the simultaneity of worlds, and to those of us who find ourselves between them. I am using this collection of imagery, with myself posing as the figure model, to build the bodies and worlds I live in. 

Contemporary realism, surrealism, science fiction, collage, and repetition inspire me to imagine the formal possibilities of my work. I am particularly informed by the work of Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, and Hajime Sorayama. Varo and Carrington’s paintings show me to myself. The paintings tell me to surrender; the worlds I dream of are already here. I came to Carrington’s work through Leonora’s World, a “Living Art Spectacle” of her paintings at Double Edge Theatre in the fall of 2018 and 2019. These performances allowed me to make an embodied connection to Carrington’s work. This connection helped me strengthen the relationship between my desire and my art. Hajime Sorayama’s erotic sci-fi illustrations and sculptures motivate me to practice this further. I am moved by Sorayama’s use of eroticism as a tool to imagine the future. 

I want to create work that tends to desire. When I do this, I am transformed by what I learn about how I locate my memory, my grief, and my pleasure. Worlds slip into me and I into them. I believe that desire is a portal through which we may bring ourselves to one another and to our dreams. Desire, then, may also be the portal through which the living and the dead convene. My thesis is becoming an ode to those whose existences are fashioned by straddling worlds. I want to be with the lovers, the queers, the perverts, the wind-swept, and the survivors for whom all that swells and rushes is also a requiem. This is because of and in gratitude to all who, as Dr. Maura Finkelstein once wrote to me, are “in pursuit of real, imagined, and remembered worlds.”