Karla Van Vliet’s newest book Fluency: A Collection of Asemic Writings has just been released from Shanti Arts. She Speaks in Tongues, a collection of poems and asemic writings which is forthcoming from Anhinga Press, Fall 2021.
Karla Van Vliet’s work contains poetry within its movement and flow. At first the pieces struck me as lovely and simple, but this is deceptive as they are deeply moving vignettes of emotion with the layers of words over clarifying color creating a conversation. With Karla, asemic language becomes a truly unique expression of a self that expands to allow others to experience her voice.
1)What is behind your artistic vision? (Why do you do art?)
My first art was dance, I started to move in gesture before I could speak, before I had that skill. But I moved to what moved me, my father playing Mozart on the piano, or shady grove on the banjo. I came late to language. Yet I had so much in me to express. I thought I was a strange and awkward person due to trauma, and in a way that may be true, but I’ve come to believe that I was born an artist, someone who sees the world in a unique way. I’m just coming to terms with that now, although I have lived a full life of following my artistic path. First a dancer, then a painter, then a poet and now both writer and painter. I once lamented to my daughter that I was sorry I didn’t have the funds to buy her all the things she desired (we had been out school shopping), that perhaps I should have taken a job at the bank instead of being an artist. Then she spoke truth to me. “Mom”, she said, “but you have to paint, it’s who you are. If there was no more paper in all the world, I would give you my wall to paint on.” She was right, of course.
I’m not sure all artists work to express some truth in themselves, to discover that truth. Perhaps they do. But I do. When I started writing poems, I wrote to express in code (poems are perfect for this) what I could not say straight. When I paint, I believe I’m tapping into what wants to be expressed before it has come into words, or what is there that wants expressing without words. I started asemic work when I had a dream of asemic script over the moon. I have had this dream image over and over, the dream insisting on the image. I hadn’t really been aware of asemic writing before that dream. I am a dreamwork analyst and have worked with my own dreams since 1991. I have built my life on the truth and the path that comes from dreams and I understood it was an imperative that I paint that image. All of my asemic work has followed from that dream.
I often define asemic work as the gesture of writing, that it kept my hand in the practice of writing when I had no words. I’m thinking now that I have been emphasizing the wrong word, writing, but it is gesture that is at the heart of it. Gesture, writing, painting, dancing, I was born to create gesture in expression of what moves me.
2) How does being an artist help you communicate with the world?
And does that gesture help me to communicate with the world? I’m not sure it does. I’m not sure I care if it does. Of course, I want people to like what I put out there. I love it when people are touched by my images and words. But would I stop if they were not? I think I could not stop. First and foremost, my work is a communication with myself. Perhaps that is selfish. Perhaps it sounds like I only care for myself. But I care deeply for people in the world, I would give you the shirt off my back in an instant if you needed it. I listen to people’s feelings and experiences with compassion and non-judgement, and strangers often tell me their deepest secrets and traumas. But does my art help me to communicate with the world? Looked at in another way, perhaps it does. Perhaps it shares who I am, or an aspect of who I am, that otherwise would not be shared. I am a private person but I have never locked up my poems or paintings in the drawer of my desk. I have spread them far and wide. People have called me brave for doing so. I’ve never seen it that way. It seems the safest way to share myself with the world. A blessing for that.
3) Have you built or joined a community of artists around the world? How did you do this?
I live in a very rural area of the world. Given that, I know a lot of artists, Vermont is full of artists, musicians and writers. But it is also limited in many ways, no large cities, few galleries, or museums and none really that are cutting edge. The community of artists that I have connected with through the asemic groups and other artist and writing groups on fb have been a godsend. I am inspired by the work I see every day, encouraged by the response to my own work but also to the work of others. Encouraged that there are so many out there interested in art and writing, pouring themselves into their own work, sharing their work, connecting and supporting each other. It’s brilliant. Like an artistic diaspora come home.