Artists Up Close
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When the Trees Disappear, Who Will Cry for Them?

When the Trees Disappear, Who Will Cry for Them?

As the trees disappear in Karey Kessler’s hometown, she explores in her map-paintings the ever-shifting inner and outer topographies of the spaces humans inhabit.

Trees have disappeared in Cranford, New Jersey. Clear cut for new developments. Uprooted to make way for drainage. Toppled by violent climate change storms. The vanishing trees stand out most in Karey Kessler’s hometown memories, the Seattle-based visual artist said during her interview with Artists Up Close.

“It's really astonishing how much the street I grew up on has changed,” Kessler said. “We go back at least once or twice a year, and I find that it's actually the perfect experience of Solastalgia. I remember there being this canopy of trees, and for one reason or another, you know, and climate change—” She trailed off her thought. “We didn't have flooding when I was younger. Now that town floods really badly and we have pretty bad blizzards. … I actually have this memory of being about 10 years old. We used to play in the street, I had neighbors who were kids, and we played ball on the street one day, when a car drove up — and it was not creepy. But he [the driver] was like, ‘I grew up in this house. And behind your house was all forest,’ because my street was built in the 50s. And the houses all behind us were built more in the 70s. And I had never really known that — I was little. But then the thought that it was just forest in my backyard for miles really stuck with me. I just thought that was fascinating. And now when I go back, and I think not only is all that forest that I never even saw gone, but now all the trees that were on our street that I grew up on, are almost all gone. So yeah, it's sad.”

Artwork by Karey Kessler

For more than two decades, Karey Kessler has created map-paintings to explore how time, place, and human consciousness are interconnected. In her Solastalgia series, she tells “a story of vulnerability, and connects the urgency of the climate crisis to the humbling expanse of geologic time and the vastness of the cosmos.” All done in ink and watercolor on Hanji paper on panel. The base of Kessler’s map-paintings is steeped in layered pigment, splatters, and splotches of color: sometimes vibrant and hot but often muted, cool, and wintery. Hand drawn lines give hints of borders, territories, cities, towns, and nations. There even seems to be an ocean, a lake, a river or a cavernous expanse. And sometimes, amidst the visual feast emerge literary signposts: ‘fear and cosmic awe,’ ‘a slow wisdom,’ ‘listen to the song of the LANDSCAPE.’

Solastalgia - grief or distress for the vanishing wilderness and for environmental destruction.

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