Word nerds know that “melancholy” and “sad” are not synonymous. Sure, they describe a similar feeling, and casual conversation allows them to be used interchangeably. But melancholy evokes a different feeling than sadness—by several sources, it’s defined as “sober thoughtfulness,” “a gloomy state of mind,” and “pensive sadness.” Melancholia, then, is more complex than simply being sad.
Kimberly Valentinsson’s solo show, Melancholy, up now at Blick on Broughton St., nails the complexity of the feeling of melancholia.
Using a variety of techniques, from watercolor to intaglio to monotype, Valentinsson creates a collection of heads. Some of the works experiment with nonhuman form, like the winged devil in “Rise” and the mummy-mermaid hybrid in, fittingly, “Mummaid.” Other works seem to channel feelings into a physical form, like the ghosts rising from the head in “Possessed” or the ghostlike figures in “Unrequited.”
Valentinsson gets down to the details in creating an overarching feeling of melancholia. Many of the heads have closed or droopy eyes. The man’s red, downturned eyes in “Destitute” suggest hopelessness; the woman’s sunken eyes in “Cabeza” are slightly red and a little frightening.
Creepiness, in fact, is a major part of this show, particularly in Valentinsson’s experimentation with nonhuman figures. “Mummaid” looks like an old medical sketch, which creates a feeling of uneasiness. The detail of the face in “Isolement” is done in scratches that obscures the bottom half of the face and emphasizes the dark, lined eyes. The result is a mask-like figure that terrifies me the more I look at it.
My favorite aspect of the show is Valentinsson’s limited use of the color blue in her works. Blue is typically the go-to color to represent sadness, but Valentinsson seldom uses it, choosing instead to stick primarily to a neutral color palette. That distinction is an important one—it demonstrates the complexity of feeling melancholy. The neutrals Valentinsson uses are more appropriate for portraying the pensive, thoughtful side to the feeling.
In Melancholy, Valentinsson has created a stunningly accurate visual portrayal of a feeling and all its intricacies.
Melancholy remains up at Blick Art Supplies (318 E. Broughton St.) throughout the month of August. Click here to see more from Kimberly Valentinsson.