The work of Karen Ann Myers discusses female gender roles, space, and self-perception. We’ll be showing some of her awesome work at the Empty Kingdom Summer Art Show so come through to see her work! And check out her interview:
Please introduce yourself.
I currently live in Charleston, South Carolina. I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I received my BFA from Michigan State University and my MFA from Boston University.
I have always been interested in art and have always made art. When I began painting more seriously and thought of it as a career, I focused mostly on self-portraiture. While I don’t currently concentrate exclusively on self-portraits, for over 10 years I have completed one large-scale self-portrait every year. These self-portraits are my version of a written diary. Each of my paintings is an opportunity to better understand myself through my past, present and future experiences and relationships with paint. My paintings are motivated by what it is like to be a specific gender and a specific age in contemporary culture, often juxtaposed with experiences from the past.
Your work uses a great deal of vibrant colors, what does color mean to you? What do you hope to convey to your audience with such color?
I’m always trying new combinations and harmonies. I love color. For inspiration, I look at all kinds of art; including traditional western art, like Josef Albers, David Hockney and Alex Katz to Navajo weavings.
Lately, I have become interested in using the abstract patterning found in various textiles as a unifying design motif and posing the models to react to or with the pattern’s structure. For example, the model’s limbs mimic the angles and shapes in the bedding, rugs and other ornamentation.
I collect patterns; it’s an enjoyable from of research that I do naturally.
Why have you chosen to paint from a bird’s eye view?
For me, an intimate point of view is the best way to represent the psychology of the women featured in my artwork. Being alone and vulnerable, but self-aware and introspective, are some of the states of mind that I’m interested in portraying.
The unique perspective of my paintings—with the viewer looking down into the scene—came to me almost accidentally. When I started painting from a bird’s eye view it was an aha moment. While painting from a normal point of view, my peers and mentors criticized the work for its flatness and lack of depth, but I liked that, especially how the patterns flatten out the space. I tried to figure out a way around it, to work out the lack of depth while maintaining the flatness that I enjoyed. So I started to look down, and that has fueled my work for many years. That aerial perspective has infinite possibilities. It puts the viewer in an interesting voyeuristic point of view.
A great many of your paintings have the subject looking at the viewer, why is that? We are seeing into her room, her private place, is she looking back from it? Is she acknowledging our intrusion?
While not all the women are looking at the viewer, I feel like the model is more human and powerful when she is looking at the viewer. It’s a more engaging experience, maybe even confrontational. It’s too passive to have the figure looking away. When she’s looking at you it’s more inviting, but in a more jarring sort of way. It makes you uneasy. It involves you on an emotional level.
The work is about being vulnerable, yet confidence and self-assured. I like the tension between those two states of mind. I like that there can be both.
How do you hope to convey the psychological complexity of women through your work? What parts of your pieces do you hope to illustrate this meaning? There tend to be a number of varying textures and patterns in your pieces, does each resemble something in particular to you? What do the patterns on the bedspread and the rugs mean?
I hope that my paintings portray the dualities of female psychology and sexuality. I portray the women as independent and complex; yet contemplative, vulnerable and alone. The work is about visual excitement.
I am interested in frustrating my audience; the viewer wants to look at the irresistible woman on the bed, yet he/she is conflicted because of the equally beautiful rug on the floor. I am attracted to the vulnerability and power attached to beauty. They possess the same physical allure for me, as I’m sure they do for other people. However, I can’t see it as a realistic physical standard of appearance, which is why it may be troubling.
I also want to capture a sense of contemplation within the figure surrounded by the chaotic world. My paintings highlight the connection between what is seen and what is felt by transforming an image into a tactile experience for the viewer.
Do you think the cult of beauty disparately effects women? Why do you think so? Do men and women share equally in the blame or should that be apportioned unevenly as well?
What I term as the cult of beauty is a fascinating phenomenon to me because it’s both powerfully attractive and disturbing at the same time. I don’t attempt in my paintings to define all that women are, because that can’t be done. I do not subscribe to the idea that sexual images of women inspire violence or promote the political oppression of women in our culture. Gender politics, feminism and pornography are complicated issues and that is how it should be, because the truth about sexual dynamics is complex.
I feel that no matter how strong someone seems on the outside, there is always a fragile side on the inside. My paintings explore this duality. Each of my paintings is an opportunity to better understand myself through others and through self-reflection. My work is more about personal psychology.
How do you hope your work will perpetuate positive change? Have you seen your work result in real world consequences? In your Artist Statement you seem to be discussing the pieces in front of an audience, do you take time to present your work? How is it received?
My work is a thoughtful meditation on how female sexuality and material consumption continues to be negotiated by the mass media. Intricate imagery reflects a variegated response to the daily bombardment of cultural messages received by female American consumers; my paintings react with a sometimes uneasy balance of embrace and rejection. In this respect, the pictures can simultaneously appear to glamorize and critique luxurious textiles that must be procured at a home décor boutique, or a popular magazine’s idea of beauty.
It’s hard/impossible for me to speak about everyone that sees my paintings. I imagine some people see an idea that they are familiar with and other people see something more unusual. But it seems to me, on some level, people project their own personal psychology on the woman in each of the paintings. Some people see a vulnerable woman. Some people see a confident woman. Some people see a distressed woman. I’m sure there are many more interpretations of my paintings. But in the end, I’m glad it’s so varied because I think that is closer to the truth.
Where do you work? Is your workspace, dirty or clean? Describe a typical day in the studio.
This question is difficult to answer because I am in a state of transition. BUT, here are two blog posts that answer the question when my life was more stable.
I am a full time practicing artist, but I have another full time job (as the Associate Director at the Halsey Institute at the College of Charleston). Therefore, a typical day in the studio is a little unusual. Each week, I establish a schedule around my Halsey Institute schedule so I can squeeze in 40 hours of painting time. I even have a punch clock to record my time. http://karenannmyers.com/vintage-lathem-mechanical-time-recorder/. My favorite time of day to work on my artwork is in the middle of the night. It’s so quiet and peaceful. I usually paint three weekday nights from 7pm – 12pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. On Saturdays and Sundays, I paint all day; literally from when I wake up until I go to bed (10am – 2am, 16 hours each day). I’ve learned to develop a lot of stamina in the studio as a result of this funky schedule.
A typical day in the studio is quite boring to describe, since one painting typically takes between 200 – 500 hours (that’s 5 – 12 weeks working 40 hours per week). Not a lot of progress is made in a single day. Slow and steady wins the race! When painting, I work on one color at a time. A studio day usually begins with pre-mixing that day’s colors (http://karenannmyers.com/palettes-for-striped-diamonds-ii/) I might spend 3 weeks just painting the “blues” in a painting. When I’m finished with a color, I move onto another color. Repeat.
Because the work is so tedious (which I enjoy), I am able to focus on other interests simultaneously. I love listening to NPR, audio books and electronic music while I paint.
Tell us about your process, how does a painting begin? In your mind? As a sketch?
Here’s some blog posts about my process:
I begin by taking photographs of women (friends) who I invite into my studio. The poses often emulate fashion photography found in W Magazine or Vogue. After I photograph each woman, I choose a pattern that best matches her personality to me. I try to find a pattern that works well with the expression and pose of the model. I will purchase bedding and other interior decorations that I like and photograph the woman with the bedding. After the photo shoot, I return the bedding because do I really need to own 20 duvet covers? =)
In addition to my own photographs, I will go shopping online and select additional bedroom accessories (headboards, rugs, night stands, lamps, dressers, and other furniture). I use Photoshop to collage all my photographs and online shopping together to determine a composition. I do not begin painting until I have a clear understanding of the composition and color palette. After the composition is planned, I transfer my collage to the canvas and begin painting. On the painting, I experiment with different color palettes.
The process of painting is very enjoyable. A significant amount of time is spent planning before paint is even applied to the canvas. All paintings begin as a line drawing, using opaque pigment markers, with the composition and details drawn out entirely. The line drawing serves as a map for the next step, where broader washes of thinned oil paint are applied to establish an overall sense of color and harmony. I paint indirectly, so the final painting is a result of many layers, where each layer is more intricate than the previous.
You’ll be bringing Zig Zag Rug to 111 Minna, can you tell us about the piece?
For 111 Minna, I’ve sent two paintings, “Zig Zag Rug” and “Netlix”. My bedroom, and more specifically my bed, has always been an important physical space, where I spend most of my time when home, reading, working, eating, etc. It’s interesting to note that the women in my paintings were not photographed in their own bedrooms like most people think, but were actually photographed in my bed. These rooms do not exist and are fantasies of rooms I wish I had.
In these paintings, I have the opportunity to create any combination of bedrooms that hold objects that are important to me or have some sort of significance. The additional objects featured in the paintings are usually something that I am personally connected to. The significance of each object is something that I can personally enjoy. To someone else, they might not mean anything. They mark a specific time in my life. They document what I was wearing, reading, thinking,
I am attracted to the textures found in women’s clothing; lace, chiffon, satin, and other intricacies. I enjoy the challenge of painting them. I am interested in making work that is representative of our time, featuring current trends in fashion and decoration.
What are you working on next?
Much of my time in 2013 was spent collecting reference materials for future paintings. I then generated nearly 25 sketches for new paintings. I’m overwhelmed and excited by the imagery that has been yet to be turned into painting. I wish I painted faster because it will take me over two years to turn all the sketches into paintings.
I see myself continuing to focus on painting portraits of women that I meet and know in a way that represents their personality, identity and humanity. Formally, my paintings will remain focused on bold colors, balanced design and clashing geometric patterns. I plan on expanding the detail of each painting, as well as the size.
If you could live anywhere for a year where would it be and why?
Helsinki, Finland! I’ve always wanted to visit the country where my ancestors are from. There’s a vibrant visual arts scene that I’d like to explore. Living in Charleston, SC, I miss the cold weather, too.