Karey Kessler (b. 1974) creates map-paintings that contain ideas about physical places, but also spiritual, internal, and temporal spaces as well. She received her BA in Fine Arts and Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her work is included in the books: The Map as Art (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), by Kitty Harmon; From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010); The Embodied Forest (ecoartspace, 2021); and Le Paysage est une traversée (Editions Parentheses, 2020). Her work was also included in Orion Magazine (2021), Lilith Magazine (2022), The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies (2022) and Vrklempt Magazine (2023). In 2022 Meta Open Arts commissioned her to create a mural at the Meta Reality Labs (Redmond, WA). And in 2019 she participated in the SciArt Initiative Bridge Residency. Kessler has shown her work widely, including exhibits at the Weatherspoon Art Museum (NC), the Katona Art Museum (NY), and the Bellevue Art Museum (WA). She is currently a member of Shift Gallery in Seattle, and her work can be seen in the flat files of the Pierogi Gallery (NYC).
One of Hillel’s main teachings is that people should do mitzvot and deeds of Hesed (loving kindness) both as individuals and as communities. He taught: “Do not separate from the community.” —Avot 2:5.
According to Yitzhak Buxbaum, a Hasid like Hillel is motivated to stay close to the community by the desire to influence others for good. Buxbaum goes on to state that the meaning of Hillel’s saying “do not separate” goes deeper than the benefits of community. It implies an awareness of the mystic unity of people.
The concept of a mystic unity of people, and I would add, a mystic unity of everything, inspired the three paintings for this show. And Hesed, which both a feeling (loving kindness) and an action (good deeds) is the foundation for how we can get along with others and repair the world.
My paintings start with watercolor to make an assortment of dots, lines, and pools of color. Then, like a cartographer, I label areas — not with real locations, but where the marks and colors evoke feelings, thoughts, and memories. I kept a running list of words as I read “The Life and Teachings of Hillel” such as kindness, love, and compassion and phrases such as “mystic unity” and “a foundation of all foundations.”
All of my paintings play with the fact that the Hebrew word for ‘the Place,’ ha-Makom, is also used as a name for God. “Here” can be a specific, known physical place, or it can be an infinite conceptual space—a spiritual realm— an underlying structure of our world.