Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Art Space Talk: Caitlin Karolczak

Caitlin Karolczak was born 1984 in northern Minnesota. She received a BFA in Fine Arts and BA in Art History at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in May of 2005. She currently resides in Minneapolis Minnesota working as a self employed artist and co-gallery owner. Her art studio and gallery are in the historic Grain Belt Brewery complex in NE Minneapolis. Besides painting, her interests include vintage medical and post-mortem photography, mid-century modern furnishings and art, fine design, fashion, snowboarding, digital photography, and travel.

Brian Sherwin: Caitlin, I understand that you studied fine arts and art history. Where did you study? Can you tell us about the program?
Caitlin Karolczak: I studied at the Univ. of MN in the Twin Cities. The undergraduate program encourages students to develop their own approach to painting. A wide range of professors - all working artists – made it possible for me to develop my skills in different ways... I had the pleasure of working with several excellent ones. The new art facilities with state of the art equipment was a real bonus.

Despite all the positives, college is one of those things I would really like to do over. I began attending college full time when I was 16. I took my first studio arts class my sophomore year. I was too young and confused about what I really wanted to do to take full advantage of the facilities, instructors and opportunities. I did become better grounded in theory and conceptual art, but I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I need to learn about painting technique.

My art history studies focused on Classical, Medieval and early Japanese art. My major research projects were on the phenomenon of children in medieval effigy / funerary art, and Greco-Roman mummy portraits. I know both had a marked influence on my attraction to similar subjects. I studied under some REALLY incredible professors in the art history department. Unfortunately, I think they have all retired!

BS: You have stated that you are motivated to create art due to your interest in creation and experimentation. Can you go into further detail about this?

CK: Painting needs to be enjoyable or it just gets frustrating. Experimentation offers a distraction from tedious painting methods and sometimes enlightens me to important techniques I was previously ignorant of.

BS: Caitlin, what are the specific themes that you deal with? What attracts you to these themes?

CK: Some of the themes I have been dealing with include the physical limitations and fragility of the human body; the classic notion of the beauty of death, its youthful ideals and colorful decay; cultural beliefs about the martyr. I’ve recently been reading works by Mishima and have found that he speaks to many of these same issues.

My source imagery often comes from the vintage medical photos that I collect. Modern medical images tend to simply show a condition, devoid of the individual. Vintage medical photographs, on the other hand, portray debilitating physical conditions in a notably artistic way. Often times they are not anonymous, looking more like artfully done portraits than anything.

If they do attempt anonymity, it has an entirely different effect, giving a leper the appearance of a classically draped nude or giving the subject a fetish-like appearance by awkwardly covering the individual’s features with bands of fabric. My attraction to these images reflects a desire for my work to mirror these sentiments of beauty and distress, but at the same time take them a step further in a way that photography cannot.

BS: Caitlin, you embrace accident with your work. Why does that form of spontaneity intrigue you?

CK: When I was very young I tried to make perfect images. Different medias frustrated me because I didn’t have control over them. Actually, the first time I ever painted, I hated it. I wasn’t good at it. I wasn’t thrilled with my professors tedious color theory (although I have benefited from it). I was not going to take another painting class. Fortunately for me, underclassman don’t have first choice for classes and I was forced to take intermediate painting. Since then I’ve come to embrace the lack of control of some mediums.

I’m also a very impatient painter distracted easily. This impatience has occasionally caused disastrous consequences in my work, but I’ve also discovered some interesting techniques - changes in surface, etc - this way. That spontaneity intrigues me because there is no way I can entirely recreate or mimic those qualities on purpose.

Sometimes these "accidents" are not entirely obvious, but I think these different layers add distinction to a finished painting. I like seeing these traditionally "abstract" methods of painting alongside classically "accomplished" techniques and I want my future works to be a successful blending of the two.

BS: You often use recycled materials-- such as aged or use surfaces... what is your motive behind this practice? Also, is there a personal philosophy behind your work? Is it reflected in your choice of materials and surface?

CK: I’ve always appreciated the handmade quality of vintage paper and textiles. I started out using recycled materials out of financial need (and still do) but found that I appreciated the difference in color and texture. By trade, I co-own a gallery specializing in mid-century and antique furnishings. When I go to estate sales and auctions, I often have the privilege of getting my hands on some really interesting supplies. Everything from textiles and paper to antique vials of powdered pigments and oils for bargain prices.

I collect antique paper from books that are in disrepair, some as early as the 17th Century. At one sale, I was lucky to find a quantity of high quality Italian art linen, something that I could never afford to buy new. I haven’t had to buy paint for years, because I constantly find old tubes of vintage oil paints and frankly the quality is better then most of the modern brands. When I do have to buy something new, it’s usually for archival reasons.

An added benefit to vintage and recycled materials is the sense of history, almost a kind of past life aura. There is nothing like working with a one of a kind found object and making it your own.
Sometimes my recycling has a sinister aspect to it. After I’ve made SURE they had no monetary value, I’ve often painted over found paintings! I’ll think to myself "That isn’t half bad... someone put some work into this..." The need to have canvases always prevails though.

I guess you could say many different historical and organic objects provide inspiration. Everything from vintage art supplies and rotting fruit to my collection of animal skulls, mummified critters, embalming fluids, neglected and abused dolls, weird religious artifacts etc.

BS: Caitlin, you are interested in exploring aspects of the human condition within the context of your work. Your practice often has a psychological basis. Do you study psychology? If so, what schools of psychology do you adhere to? There seems to be a Jungian quality to your work...

CK: Jung provides a wealth of psychological information that applies to art in a very direct way; however, I haven’t studied any school of psychology in any formal way. I’ve always had interest in it, but I’m usually more preoccupied with the physical element of the human mind, disease and injury. The mental processes of the human mind provide an endless wealth of artistic subject matter. I plan on exploring them more.

The Jungian quality some of my work might have is probably due to my attempt to confront the viewer with a conflict between the limitations of the physical body and the spiritual world.

BS: Is the act of painting a spiritual or therapeutic practice for you? Or do you stave off those emotional energies in order to simply focus on the process of painting itself? In other words, are you interested in the emotional aspects of creation or are you more focused on the methods and techniques of creating the image-- or is it a combination of both for you?

CK: It’s a combination. It’s therapeutic in that painting is a treatment for daily stresses and emotional anxieties. At the same time, it is an obsession for me, in a way that becomes emotionally exhausting. I think those emotional energies are imperative to my process and focus, but sometimes I just need to relax and focus strictly on method.

Any painting I make is a result of different energies and methods in different points of time. One move or color choice might be purely aesthetic while the next might be a result of an emotional impulse.

BS: Would you say that your work is a reflection of yourself more than a reflection of society? Is your work a search or examination of your identity, so to speak?

CK: My work is definitely an examination of my identity, my experiences and anxieties but I also think its impossible for an artists work not to reflect society, even if its in the subtlest way. I think some of my future work might be more obviously critical or reflective of society, but I’m also very critical of myself.

BS: What are you working on at this time? How does your current work reflect the themes we have discussed?

CK: I’ve been saving up piles of beautiful antique frames, most decrepit in a unique way. I’m cutting panels to fit the many non-standard sizes. Panel is my choice material for ‘experimentation’. The scraping and layering I enjoy is often too rough for stretched canvas.
I am working towards developing the ideas behind my paintings more thoroughly. One of my goals is to produce a series or two of works that will play off each other more cohesively. Medical and psychological trauma, symbolism, and the reinterpretation of classic feminist themes will all be victim to my visual translation.

BS: Do you have any exhibits lined up?

CK: There are a few exhibits in Minneapolis I have lined up for 2008. Information about current and future exhibitions can be found on my art site: www.studiosilenti.com. When I am not showing anywhere, I always have work up at my Mid-Century furnishings gallery in Minneapolis (www.spinariodesign.com).

The Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis will be exhibiting my collection of 19th Century post mortem photography in spring of 2009. Other than that I am actively seeking to show my art elsewhere!

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

CK: I look forward to growing as an artist. I hope my future work sufficiently speaks to the observer and gains a wider range of viewer-ship.

Caitlin Karolczak is a member of the www.myartspace.com community-- www.myartspace.com/mutantsloth. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Thomas Dean Nordlum said...

I saw your paintings at the Spyhouse some months back. They have stayed in my mind and I would like to take a look at them again and perhaps buy one. Are they on display anywhere currently?

thomasdeannordlum@yahoo.ca