Carolyn’s story began in Catford, a section of London, England. She is the youngest child of Mark and Amelia Taper. When Mark Taper retired, he and his wife, Amelia, an artist who did free-lance illustrations for Vogue, decided to move to California. The family settled first in Long Beach, but then relocated to Santa Monica. Carolyn from an early age was interested in reading, drawing, writing, and time to retreat into the world of her imagination. At age 9, she channeled her creativity into writing and illustrating her first book, The Nanose. She was inspired “by dust particles dancing in a sunbeam flooding my bedroom window.” For her, each speck of dust was a tiny person, and she created a whole world for them to inhabit. This book would lay the foundation for her to have a life steeped in creativity, self-exploration and learning about the greater universe. The idea of a close relationship between the microcosmic and the macrocosmic world would become a key component of her art and worldview.
A great passion for reading led her to discover the writings of Guy de Maupassant (a 19th century French writer) and she explored fantasy fiction which would all come to play a role in her own writings. As an adult she continued to delight in creating fantasy images, not to escape from reality but to discover a heightened reality conducive to her active imagination.
In addition, in her youth, Carolyn found great satisfaction through being a ballet dancer and through horseback riding. These allowed her to experience true existential freedom. She craved to be outdoors and to be free. Carolyn’s curiosity always felt stifled by formal schooling. Riding helped inspire Carolyn’s lifelong love for the outdoors, for animals, and for the wilderness.
When Carolyn was fifteen-years old, her family moved to Beverly Hills. The overall change of lifestyle did not suit her independent spirit. Carolyn was expected to adhere to the expectations of her family and high society. Accordingly, Carolyn tried modeling with a large degree of success and explored acting. She ultimately chose not to follow either of these paths as she approached adulthood. She craved to create a different way of life from that of her new environment.
After graduating high school, Carolyn attended college which included studying psychology, poetry, and painting at UCLA. However, the adult Carolyn, like the schoolgirl Carolyn, found it difficult to fit into the tight frame of organized education. Carolyn still wanted to increase the foundation of her knowledge. It was her studies through UCLA Extension Program in psychology that piqued her interest and would guide her future path.
“ My imagination is my salvation; the world of ideas, my sport.
Carolyn married Travis Kleefeld. The couple became parents to two daughters, Carla and Claudia. However, Carolyn and Travis later divorced. A turning point came in 1974, when Carolyn moved to Malibu. Seeking a quieter way of life, surrounded by fresh air and the Pacific, she was free to lead a life of her own making. Carolyn used the meditative environment of Malibu to embark on a new journey of the mind. A true autodidact, she began a self-directed program of intellectual discovery sparked by what she had learned at UCLA. During the 1970s, the Malibu community attracted a fascinating group of people. There were freethinkers, who had the temerity to challenge the most cherished beliefs of their day.
Carolyn thrived in this environment and was able to make the time to focus on her poetry. She met Anaïs Nin at the International Language Institute, and Nin encouraged Carolyn to “find your own voice.” They corresponded through the years. At first Carolyn wrote poems simply for herself, but the people who read them persuaded her to get her work published. Her first book of poetry, Climates of the Mind, came out in 1979, and was translated into braille by the Library of Congress.
Shortly after Carolyn completed Climates of the Mind, she visited Big Sur and joined a workshop at the Esalen Institute. The core ideology of Esalen focuses on the belief that the human mind and spirit are capable of achieving vast wonders that lay largely untapped and unrealized. This marked a defining moment in Carolyn’s life, and was at that time that she made her move to Big Sur, which has been her home ever since.
In Big Sur, Carolyn would fully come into her own as a poet, author, and artist. Big Sur has been home to countless other creatives, such as Henry Miller, who have described their experiences as life changing. For Carolyn, a pantheistic soul, this retreat from the modern world was the perfect place. Here she honed her craft and has had 25 books successfully published including many translations into bilingual and trilingual editions. Carolyn also found many opportunities to exhibit her art, often in conjunction with poetry readings.
“It has accelerated my internal journey, and simultaneously my art, to be in a place where I can create the space and time to let all that’s possible happen. It’s an enigmatic and challenging environment. It’s been essential for me to be in the constant inspiration of nature, where I can be in a position to live my own natural rhythms and define my own essence.
An important time for Carolyn was her participation in Mavericks of the Mind: Conversations for the New Millennium, which gathered interviews with individuals engaged in extending the boundaries of scientific thought. The participants went on to become her friends and included luminaires such as Dr. John Lilly, Dr. Timothy Leary, Laura Huxley, and Alan Ginsberg. Carolyn would create with them, paint, and write about them.
Also, in Big Sur, Carolyn met the four men, her muses, who have been most inspirational in her life and art: Edmund Kara, sculptor, John Larson, artist, David Dunn, poet, artist, photographer, and musician, and Carolyn’s late husband, actor and artist David Campagna.
Big Sur is where she continues her quest to understand the inner workings of the universe and express herself through her art, poetry, and writings. A permanent selection of Carolyn’s art and her literary archive are included at the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach.