Caroline Pinney is a sunny Austin-based contemporary artist whose output is as warming as the weather that surrounds her. With the lyrics of Radiohead and Norah Jones pulsating through the studio, Pinney creates carnivalesque compositions that look like a party we want to join. Inspired by snaps from her travels and “the spectrum of contemporary social interaction” as she names it, the artist’s work is at once light, friendly and thought-provoking.
The artist’s works look somewhat to mother nature as well as contemporary relationships, building a fascinating world of women and creatures interacting casually and lovingly. On her palettes where brown sings, she shares, “Humankind stems from nature as does everything else. […] My environment deeply influences my work, so it feels natural that I’d be partial to the ethereality of an earthy colour palette.” Grounded and inspired, this artist is one to watch.
With her joint exhibit alongside Camille Woods opening today at women-owned Commerce Gallery in Texas, we caught up with Caroline to delve into the exhibition, uncover the inspiration that fuels her work, and learn about what’s next for the artist. 
Today you’re opening a joint exhibition at Commerce Gallery, Texas, with Camille Woods. Can you tell me a bit about the work you will be exhibiting?
My work mostly explores intimacy and relationships relative to my own experiences. This exhibition is no exception, but I’ve integrated a more saturated and sultry colour palette based on those represented within the home design and fashion I’m currently drawn to.
From what I gather, this is an exhibition that focuses on the perspective of women, as the gallery is women-owned, and cares about the passion and energy behind both your work. How does it feel to collaborate in such a way? Does working together as just women give you a different type of creative freedom?
I do think this show is very woman-focused. Even though we’re showing together, Camille and I were given full artistic freedom to create a body of work specific to our own influences and interests separate from one another. Gallery owners, Tamara and Donna really honour the integrity of their artists. I think they recognized the female-centric lean within my work and in Camille’s and knew it would cohere well for this show. An existing relationship with the gallery generated trust on all ends while planning for this show. I adore working with other women and yes, I do think there’s something about female camaraderie that fosters a different type of creative freedom.
Are there specific artists you find coming up as references in your work or do you find non-art references are more prevalent?
I think generally non-art references tend to be more prevalent. I often lay out coffee table books or magazines focused on home design and fashion around me in the studio – always with music playing. I absolutely have favourite artists, though, and will collect pieces from those whose work resonates with me the most (a long-term endeavour.) The art I’m influenced by often tends to be different from my own, whether in form or style. At the moment, I’m deeply drawn to the work of artists: Maja Dlugolecki, Aubrey Levinthal, Katie Burdon, Firoozeh Neman, Neil Kryszak, Erin Armstrong, Kevin Perkins, and Loren Erdrich - a list that is far from exhaustive.
The characters in your paintings take up space figuratively and literally. Where do these large bodies come from in your imagination? A dream world where women and feminine-presenting people are no longer perceived as fragile?
I see my figures as extensions of me, people I know, love, dislike, have just met, and yes – often as something other than human. Creatures would be the best way I would describe some of them.
It’s interesting that you mention fragility, I hadn’t thought about it that way. I do look to convey women in a boisterous and unapologetic way. A lot of the way I move through life and within my practice has to do with the pursuit of taking up space guiltlessly and playfully. I’m interested in connecting to my body and what happens when I listen to it. I feel translating that within my work presents itself in the form of large bodies, each with their own disposition and with less emphasis on the face. Our bodies communicate on their own and are intrinsically good at reading energy. I also believe the body is a dead giveaway when it comes to relaying how content, agitated, infatuated, confident, insecure, fearful, curious, or bored we are.
Your work has been described as lyrical. Do you have any favourite song lyrics that pair well with your work?
I have far too many favourite songs to name whose lyrics I would pair with my work. At the moment, I think it would be something by Radiohead, Sylvan Esso, Kevin Morby, or Norah Jones.
The music scene as well as the art scene in your city inspires you. Do you have any anecdotes you can share about gigs, exhibitions or studio visits that have touched you in Texas?
Lately I’m enamoured by Kate Breakey’s work currently on view at Steven L. Clark Gallery. Her hand-coloured photographs are moody and elegant.
My favourite studio to visit is that of my friend, Tyler Guinn’s. His space is as beautiful and as thoughtful as his work is, as well as reflective of who he is as a person.
Music is and has been a huge part of my life – my Dad instilled that in me at a young age. Music, like art, is abundantly accessible in a place like Austin. My boyfriend is also a musician, so it’s really special to share a fondness for music, discover and introduce each other to different artists, and visit live gigs often. Currently we’re both fixated on Lizzie McAlpine.
You work with both conventional and unconventional materials. What is interesting is whether your use of coffee stains originates in a happy accident. Is there an interesting story behind how you discovered working with this material?
Although I’ve had my fair share of happy accidents, coffee isn’t one of them. Coffee staining was a technique I employed on a whim with a pot of leftover coffee once I started to work more predominantly with paper. It offers a couple things: a release of control in beginning a piece, and a beautiful organic foundation for a painting that, to me, proves less daunting than a sterile, white surface.
Your colour palate is often earthy and natural. Like so many of us, do you feel a special connection with nature?
Absolutely, I do. Humankind stems from nature as does everything else. It’s a part of us and we are a part of it. I find it grounding and re-centring to spend time in nature and am lucky to be surrounded by the beautiful Texas landscapes. My environment deeply influences my work, so it feels natural that I’d be partial to the ethereality of an earthy colour palette.
Some of your work titles imply a trip to Scotland – Highland Cow Ii and Haggis or Norway, such as The Nordic Poet. Do you take trips to find inspiration outside of the US?
Yes! I spent a week in the countryside of Fife, Scotland and then a week in London this past summer. When I’m able, traveling outside familiar territory allows me to broaden and shift my perspective on what normally influences my work.
I bring my film camera with me to document anything that’s speaking to me – the immediacy of capturing on film allows me to stay present. This has become an integral part of my process, especially when traveling. It’s really special to develop the photos once I’m home and revisit the architecture, people, plants, animals, food etc. that demanded my attention in those moments. Highland Cows, for example, or a vintage store I found myself in called Nordic Poetry in London are some of the many iconography that creep their way into the scenes and titles of my work.
Your compositions often display a row of friends interacting closely as if they’ve lined up for a photograph, but then got distracted with an embrace. Is this casual, familiar feeling an intention behind your work?
I love that you see them through that lens! I’ve also heard my paintings look like a party someone wants to be invited to. I’m actually not sure that my figures or creatures are even aware of the viewer’s presence. My intention is to comment on the spectrum of contemporary social interaction: vibrant moments of solidarity, chaotic scenes with an underlying tension, and contemplative moments of leisure, intimacy, or companionship. These are all familiar and reflective of my own experiences and relationships.
What do you have coming up in 2024?
I’m especially excited about the solo release I’m working on (to be dropped in May.) This collection will focus on my draw to music and celebrate a variety of artists, albums, and songs that I admire and that have impacted me. I’m also looking forward to having a few pieces included in a group exhibition with Glass Rice Gallery in San Francisco later this Spring, as well as my 4th release with the wonderful LA-based Gallery: Tappan Collective this July. Aside from those, I’m hoping to find a residency I align with to deepen my practice and take advantage of time away from home. I’m eager to do some traveling later in the year to re-up on some fresh inspiration. I’m fortunate and grateful to be able to do what I love and share it with others for another year.