Extra-cultural reviews by synaesthetes, symbolists, and strangers.
My earlier subjects were strangers. They were the random sunbathers my great-grandfather stealthily chose to photograph with his homemade hidden camera. I’ve never seen this camera, but I’ve heard that he disguised it as a book. I was drawn to these pictures immediately for their secret yet honest quality. The people he captured on film were big, bold, and beautifully unaware of the cameras eye. Although these people were strangers to me, I think that they have the ability to remind us all of someone. Through their anonymity, they become that person we already knew. Something I learned about this series after a few exhibitions was that nearly every subject I painted reminded someone of somebody they knew personally. People were convinced I’d painted their Dad or Aunt Marta or friend Jane. Although it hadn’t originally been my intention to have my viewers form these connections to my subjects when I started the Sunbathers series, it quickly became a key element of my work.
More recently, I have gravitated towards the photographs that were taken by my Grandpa. Pop and I were very close until his passing, in 2002. Pop was never the voyeur his father was (or at least we haven’t found the photos…) but he was an equally skilled photographer. He preferred taking pictures of those he loved. And he took lots of them. I am choosing to reinterpret the photographs of his that I find relatable, charming, odd, and nostalgic. Some of my subjects I know or remember well, and some are as much of a stranger to me as the sunbathers. However, because most of the people in my Pop’s collection are family and friends of family, this series has taken on a more personal meaning.
Both of my recent bodies of work share a vague theme, which is basically “people doing people things”. I’m not really trying to capture any really dramatic or significant moments, just everyday things that most people can relate to. When choosing a photograph to paint from I find myself drawn to scenes that are slightly mundane, yet carry a sense of character or silliness. I use larger canvases in part because I just think it’s more fun to paint big, but also because I think it allows my work to have a bigger impact on the viewer. Because of the size, the subject matter is kind of in your face, so to speak. When someone sees my work in person, they might be a bit shocked and curious as to why anyone would paint a 4’x4’ portrait of an old lady sitting on a toilet. Hearing my viewers voice their puzzlement over my pieces to one another is like a pat on the back for me. I would rather my viewers have some reaction over my work than to just pass it by. Seeing your work being noticed or becoming a conversation piece, even if just for a moment, is one of the small perks we artist-folk live for.
My paintings are a bit bizarre, quirky, and maybe even a bit tacky. I think part of what makes these paintings so fun for me to paint and then present to the world is that they’re all kind of ridiculous. If the photograph itself gives me a little sense of humor and whimsy, I want to exploit that and have it reach a larger audience. There is something almost triumphant finding and painting these snapshots. It’s almost like I am rescuing these forgotten relics.
Although this work is innately personal, I believe my paintings are relatable on a much larger scale. My goal is to create images that draw the viewer in, and stir up lost memories. Though I work from photos, I choose not to simply copy them onto canvas, but to highlight the life and personality of the actual moment in time that they represent. I don’t want my work to feel like a painting of a photograph, but a blurred memory or a glimpse of an old friend.
You can see more of her work at http://karissaharvey.com