‘She’s Not There’ offers a portal to contemplation and escape



“She’s Not There,” by Karen Clark.

In “She’s Not There,” Los Angeles artist Karen Clark employs collage to create a dreamy summer mood. In the foreground, a young woman exhales a cloud of smoke with eyes closed. She is unselfconscious and clearly not posing for the male gaze. Beyond her, a freight ship floats the open sea, while a few birds circle above. There is a hint of industry on a far shore. Neutral shades imbue the piece with a subtle, beachy landscape.

The style is reminiscent of Monet, both in tone and dominant impression. Monet and Clark share a preoccupation with light and atmosphere, which prioritizes mood over action. But despite the photograph’s seemingly straightforward narrative, the transparency of the girl invokes mystery. Perhaps the transparency symbolizes the impermanence of human life. We are all familiar with the feeling of standing on the cusp of the ocean — small, insignificant, mortal. The contrast in scope can act as an existential balm. Or maybe the glasslike woman is a haunting representation of the transmutability of a woman’s personage under our current patriarchal system.

Regardless of interpretation, for myself — now landlocked in Kansas in winter — this creation soothes any anxiety that might arise from cabin fever. Identifying with the subject provides both mental and physical escape. On a personal note, it evokes the empty beaches I discovered in Portland. This coastline is not active and social, but introspective. The reason for going to the beach is to be unapologetically alone. Ultimately, Clark has conjured an atmosphere of possibility, escape, or alternate reality. Isn’t that the point of good art?