Louisville Mojo - October, 2009

The new run of work by woodblock printmaker Shawna Khalily at Gallery exVoto balances a dose of gravity and ritual mysticism against an odd kind of punk aesthetic. On the one hand there are expressive interpretations of biblical content, and the artist shapes dramatic contests between angelic and demonic forces in which it’s difficult to determine a victor. In other prints, Khalily plays spiritedly with images of bones and hearts and wings and lovers — and combinations thereof — that could translate readily into a tattoo artist’s portfolio or a biker’s club crest.

It’s important to note that although the artist says on her website that her main interest lay in drawing the human figure, most of the works at ExVoto are woodcut prints. There’s even an example of the carved woodblock on display next to the a colorful print called Adam and Eve.

Khalily’s woodcuts demonstrate a thorough understanding of the mannered and allegorical visual language employed by fifteenth century European masters like Albrecht Durer, but she’s also confident enough to break from the style freely with a more broad and expressive cutting technique and by incorporating elements from pop music lyrics to ancient mythologies.

Remember watching REM’s video for “Losing My Religion”? I didn’t either particularly, but after re-watching it I get a sense that Khalily’s works function in a similar allegorical vein and shares an adjacent visual territory: the kind of place where classical mythology mingles with southern gothic storytelling to create a shifting tableaux of hope, fear and desire.

The term ExVot signifies an offering at a shrine made in gratitude and/ or devotion. In all, Khalily’s work exemplifies the theme of the gallery and does so with candor, respect and a not negligible hint of impending doom.

Louisville Mojo Article
October, 2009

Louisville Arts Review Magazine, January 2010. Ab Aeterno: From the Eternal Art by Shawna Khalily

ExVoto Gallery is one of the newest additions to the ever-growing East Market Street arts community. Its founder and director, Shawna Khalily, describes the gallery as a collective featuring a handful of local artists. The gallery opened November of 2009 at 634 East market with an exhibition by Ms. Khalily.

An ExVoto is an offering or sacrifice made to the Gods and representing a request for grace or thanks for a divine gift. On the surface this seems to be an obviously religious concept and Khalily acknowledges this connotation by creating prints in the past of St. Sebastian and Judith and making references to stigmata. But the ex-voto, like Khalily’s current work refers to something beyond any particular religion or beyond religion itself.

The sacrifice, as philosopher George Bataille wrote, is the very origin of religion. It reflects a complicated yet open and giving relation to the world that marks us as human. That sense of the sacrifice runs through Khalily’s work. Each print illuminates a scene in which figures are encountering one another and coming to terms with loss and gain and mystery.

The work, “Water From The Sam Source” is a good example of this. The figures fall just short of being identical. The symbols and depictions hint at grief, of sex, of allegiance and devotion. The image is iconic like a tarot card or an alchemical engraving and it lies outside our ability an easy or straightforward emotional reading. (The title refers to a song by local band the Rachels and reflects Khalily’s multifaceted influences).

Khalily is able to give these works authority by using the human body as a metaphor while simultaneously displaying a working artist’s knowledge of her subject. “Figure drawing is my first priority,” she states in her artist’s statement and her main artistic influences come from artists who focused on drawing as well such as Kathe Kollwitz and Jim Dine.

Khalily’s art is full of these rewarding paradoxes. Her principle medium, the woodcut, involves a slow, almost methodical and labor-intensive process for each image yet the artist herself is energetic and seems overflowing with images from many sources. Further, woodcuts, like other prints are created in editions: each print is repeated until the source - the wood, in this case, deteriorates. Khalily the printmaker doesn’t create editions. Each print is unique like a painting or a drawing. After she pulls the print Khalily hand colors it with watercolor, acrylic, colored pencils or oil paint. She selects specific papers for each work like a Lotka paper, a beautiful cloth-like paper made from the bark of the Nepali Lotka bush. She frames the prints to highlight the singular quality; floating gently off dark wood, held up to the light like an offering.

Article by Terry Tapp

Louisville Eccentric Observer - LEO - January 2013 by JoAnn Triplett

Shawna Khalily thinks like a philosopher who just happens to express her deep thoughts by way of printmaking. Her new series of woodcuts, “The Veils Are Thinning” have the ability to inspire us to be better people. “I am very interested in ancient and current ideas about where we are going next and would like to engage in the necessary reaction to so many centuries of fear and exclusion, and to help envision and manifest … the next step in human evolution”, Khalily says. “It all begins with us, each individually. The shifts in global positioning and events thereof are making human evolution happen in a quantum leap unknown since prehistory … according to the ancient Maya and Inca cultures as well as current researchers of consciousness and the soul.
— Louisville Eccentric Observer - LEO - January 2013 by JoAnn Triplett