Sunday, September 23, 2007

Art Space Talk: Carol K. Brown

Carol K. Brown began as a traditional sculptor working in metal. Her work evolved into installations that involved multiples of what appears to be an imaginary species. These creatures seemed to re-create or replicate within a given space-- a theme that has been dominate in Carol's work. Her current work consists of specific studies of common people caught in motion. These figures are combined in infinite arrangements-- they multiply. Carol's work reveals an interesting aspect of life... that things are not always what they seem. Carol has exhibited at some of the most prestigious galleries in the world, including the Nohra Haime Gallery and Ambrosino Gallery. She has exhibited at several major art fairs-- Art Basel, Art Chicago, Scope- just to name a few.

Pedestrian (63015), acrylic on paper, 17” x 24”, 2006

Brian Sherwin: Carol, where did you study art? Who were your mentors? What were your early influences?

Carol Brown: Because I already had young children when I started school, I didn’t have the luxury of choosing where to study. I always went to school wherever we happened to live at the time, and only could attend courses based on babysitters’ schedules. I got degrees from University of Miami and University of Colorado, Boulder. I learned a lot from watching one particular teacher who was in Miami while I was there, Dick Gillespie.

BS: Can you recall any events from your youth that directed you on the path you are on today?

CB: Nothing specific. I had no idea what an artist actually was, except that growing up in New Orleans; I assumed it generally had something to do with those people in the French Quarter who made likenesses of tourists around Jackson Square.

Details- an installation consisting of several hundred small unique bronze castings--various sizes up to 14” h.This project was completed in 2000

BS: Carol, from 1999 to 2000 you created several hundred bronze objects. These objects, which took on organic forms, were scattered upon the floor when displayed. The space between each piece revealed a sense of isolation, a theme you have continued to use with your more recent work. Why do you utilize a sense of isolation with your art? Is it something many viewers relate to?

CB: I have no way of knowing what viewers relate to, but it’s certainly something I relate to…

BS: Of these sculptures you have stated the following, "I've made an installation of many hundreds of them. This is a detail, a component of a monument that has now shrunken to the status of clutter, literally, an object in our path... a thing we might trip over.". I must ask, with this work are you also stating the fact that many people do not appreciate larger public sculptures? Would you say that people living today do not respect sculptures as they would have in the past?

CB: Certainly the roll of public sculpture in most people’s lives, or any visual art for that matter has decreased. Few people today consider it important. Unless there’s controversy, few people care-- hard to compete with all those ipods and video games and American Idol.… And without wanting to be a Philistine, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing since there’s some pretty awful public sculpture out there… Maybe I was thinking that by leaving it where one might trip over, it had to be confronted…

Edgewater Ballroom (#12), photographic print combining digital manipulation and paint, mounted with acrylic on sintra, 26” x 38“, 2003

BS: Carol, I've read that you are ambivalent about the use of new technologies to create art. In your opinion, technology reduces the physical labor required to produce objects, thereby eradicating the hand of the artist and leading to images short on humanity. However, at the same time you have used a computer to manipulate your hand-painted images. At what point do you think the use of technology in art gets out of hand? Or have you changed your position about the use of new technologies to create art?

CB: I was referring to an ambivalence I felt towards the seductive quality of new media, but that was written a number of years ago--I’m constantly changing my mind about most things, and that idea seems off to me today. I was also bemoaning the fact that technology should reduce labor, but in my case, I always manage (accidentally) to find ways to use any processes in rather convoluted ways that invariably manage to increase the labor involved. I.e., rather than making videos by using a video camera, I drew many hundreds of stills in Photoshop and imported them into a movie making program to imply movement. Computer people tell me that’s a really dumb waste of time and you get a choppy effect, but that’s the effect I want.
Doing it the "right" way invariably looks slick, more like an ad, which is not what I’m after. Having spent so many years working in more traditional media, I did have an initial reluctance to give up the tactile quality of a physical object, but now I’m just as happy working at a computer as in a foundry. But I always seem to keep returning to painting or sculpture, as if I still need to get my hands dirty.

Edgewater Ballroom (#14), photographic print combining digital manipulation and paint, mounted with acrylic on sintra, 26” x 38“, 2003

BS: You are well-known for you abstract sculpture... so why did you decide to use a computer to manipulate your hand-painted images. Did you feel it was time to find a new direction? Or would you say that it is important for artists to explore other mediums from time to time? Were you able to take anything that you had learned back into your other forms of creation?

CB: I don’t think of my work as being medium-based, meaning, I don’t wake up and say, what should I blow in glass this morning. I tend to shift my interests periodically, and I have to then look for the best materials to use to pursue that interest, rather than the other way around. I do tend to shift often because there are many things that interest me. I also find it interesting that you say I am known for abstract sculpture—in my mind, my work is not so abstract, but always related in some way to living form, imaginary or otherwise.

Pedestrian (63011), acrylic on paper, 17” x 24”, 2006
BS: Carol, your series, PEDESTRIAN, consists of acrylic paintings on canvas and paper and a video animation that capture the lives of anonymous individuals who find themselves, unknowingly, under your scrutinizing eye. Can you go into further detail about why you decided to do this series? What was your motive behind the work?

CB: It’s hard to walk around and not notice people. The term pedestrian means both one who walks, but also ordinary or commonplace….I think these people I’ve painted are anything but….. While painting these, I realized that while I was interested in people on the street, or the public facade of private people, I was also interested in how we react to each other.
I’ve been working hard on a new body of work I’m tentatively calling "Passersby". They are paintings of homeless people or those people most of us would rather pretend not to see as we walk by. I also love the irony of the fact that someone will probably pay a lot of money in a pristine white walled rarefied space of a gallery or artfair for an image of a person who’s hungry….and that same purchaser will try hard to avoid that same subject on the street.
I’ve also had a completely different project I’ve been working on for a long time. It has to do with my completely overwhelming sense (fear) of what it means to be a parent. My working title for the project is "Offspring" but it probably won’t be completed for ages, I often work on several things at once.
Pedestrian (63018), acrylic on paper, 17” x 24”, 2006

BS: Carol, can you give our readers a brief outline of how these images came into being? What were the steps you followed toward their creation?

CB: I’ve used a variety of different painting techniques but everything begins with stalking someone and taking as many photographs as possible with the tiny camera I always have with me, preferably without their knowledge. I’d be lost without the source photos. I’ve experimented with many different techniques but all of them seem to involve a very small brush and a very large magnifying glass, attached to my worktable….I always seem to get lost in the details.

BS: There is a voyeuristic nature about the PEDESTRIAN series. Would you say that the fact that the images you captured were not staged helped the success of the series? Are these 'stolen moments' part of what makes this series so unique?

CB: While I certainly hope my work is unique, I have no idea if others out there may be working in a similar vein, so I can’t be concerned with that… I just try to make work that seems relevant to me, and I hope that it might seem relevant to anyone else.
Pedestrian (63018), acrylic on paper, 17” x 24”, 2006

BS: Carol, I find it interesting that your recent paintings share some of the same structure as your earlier sculpture. They share a sense of isolation... and are spaced out in a similar manner. Would you say that your early work has served as a reference for the work you are creating today? Also, do you plan to sculpt again?
CB: While I don’t have any specific plans to go back to metal working any time soon, I won’t rule anything out until I’m dead.
BS: Carol, you have been involved in several major exhibitions of art- Art Basel/Miami, Scope New York, Scope London... the list goes on. What do you like about the huge art fairs? What do you dislike? Do you feel that large exhibitions of art are important... or do you prefer to have your art exhibited in a smaller space?

CB: For me the beauty of the fairs is that the work is seen by a much larger audience than ever comes to a single art show. Of course the downside is that everyone’s brain has become toast because of vast visual over-stimulation. I sometimes feel like you need to train for the Miami/Basel artfairs like a marathon runner who stokes on carbs before a big race. I’ve long associated the concept of pain with seeing great art…there’s foot pain of standing long hours in museums….but what happens during the fairs is seriously taxing on the body if you try to see everything, and I’m an image junky so I can’t imagine not trying to see everything.

Pedestrian (61023) acrylic on paper, 17” x 24”, 2006

BS: Carol, your work has been featured in Art in America, New York Times, and several other publications. Has your work ever been published in a book? Do you plan to release a collection of your work in the near future?

CB: It has not, but I certainly would be amenable to the idea.

BS: Carol, tell us about your studio space. What conditions must you have? Do you work in silence? Do you follow a certain routine?

CB: The routine… absolutely. I get up--I work. That’s about it. But I don’t really think of it as work…it’s like just what I do, what’s normal, kind of like breathing. If there’s something else that comes up, like lunch or a dentist appointment I go do it, then I go back to work. I love that I now work in the same place where I live, because time doesn’t have to be a factor in my schedule.

I used to work in a warehouse that I had set up as a metal shop, and I would draw in a cleaner area, at a drawing table. Now I paint at a drawing table on paper or unstretched canvas, so I can look through a large magnifying glass attached to the table to see detail. I keep the canvas unstretched so I can roll the painting onto my lap to get to larger sections…I tape it to the wall to stand back to see what I’m doing, then stretch the canvas when I’m finished.

I always like noise—loud music in the shop and music or TV when I’m at my drawing board, which I hear but never see since my head is in the work. I also now have the freedom to travel between New York and Miami, which I do a lot, because I only need a drawing board to keep me happy….I can have a drawing board in both places. The only thing that I "must have" is the supply of Diet Cokes.
Edgewater Ballroom (#3), photographic print combining digital manipulation and paint, mounted with acrylic on sintra, 26” x 38“, 2003

BS: Carol, do you have any suggestions or advice for artists who are just starting out?

CB: I wouldn’t presume to give advice to anyone-- that implies I know more than they do and I’m pretty sure I don’t.

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

CB: Naah!
You can learn more about Carol K. Brown by visiting her website: You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page:
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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