Maren Karlson uses Simone Weil’s concept of the void as a guiding principle for her exhibition “Cyphers” at Soft Opening, particularly the late French philosopher’s suggestion that “Grace fills empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” Tracing rounded orifices in shades of blue, green, and bone-gray oil on canvas, Karlson probes the potency of emptiness. Her visual language initially evokes something extraterrestrial, as constellations of oblong shapes reveal a strange affinity between automobile parts—such as a car dashboard or engine—and abstracted human anatomy. The imperfect symmetry and narrow landscape format of the two-panel painting Vagus (the wheels my masters) (all works 2022), resembles both futuristic machinery and an ancient sarcophagus. Its gradated teal-to-white palette accentuates the shallowness of some divots and the darker depths of other ovoid, seemingly viscous openings.
Though riddled with concave forms, Karlson’s paintings are resoundingly flat, as she softens the slickness of precise outlines with thin layers of oil that lend the works a muted haziness. The tempered blur of Karlson’s line-driven compositions aligns closely with her drawing practice, as evidenced by Sigil 1, which resembles a work in colored pencil. Developed in her sketchbook, Karlson’s paintings maintain the open-ended, contingent qualities of drawing. She proffers these works as attempts, rather than declarations—taking the void as germinal shape and loose subject matter demands inconclusivity.