Caroline Larsen is a Toronto-based artist, currently living in Brooklyn while finishing her studies, whose work blends pixilated neo-impressionism with the idea of a tapestry. It is only when you take a closer look at her paintings that you realize they aren’t huge woven textiles but rather drawings composed by thick daubs of oil paint. This gives her work a sense of folklore that completely contradicts the themes she chooses, varying from burning cars to Kate Middleton and Prince William’s wedding kiss. She is about to make her thesis exhibition, Night Tropics, this April at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn.
When someone sees your paintings, they instantly want to touch them if not grab them because they seem to be textiles although they are not, right? Describe the process of making one of your paintings.
Right. They are oil paintings. I usually take about a month to plan a painting, I do internet searches and observational research, gathering images, color ideas and general sensibility of what I am going to paint, the painting is a stand-in for the idea or feeling, so I like to start with a strong thought foundation. Right now I am painting flowers, but they are more like foliage at night, like when you are running around in the summer heat and it’s dark out. I grew up in Florida and I have vivid memories of deep green plants that seemed so saturated in the summer heat. There is a great street in New York that is lined with shops selling bouquets and succulents and near my house in Brooklyn there are the Botanical Gardens. I like going there to see the variety of color combinations! In my studio I keep a collection of house plants too, for quick reference.
How did you come up with this form? Was there any initial inspiration, because they seem to have something folkloric about them? They remind me of the rags my grandmother used to hang on the wall.
Inspiration for my paintings comes from day to day. I try to get out and see a lot of art and I love looking at textiles and patterns. I love that you think of them as having a “folklore aesthetic.” I am so interested in folk, craft and outsider art and I think those influences come through in some of my mark-making.
On the one hand you seem to follow more of a folklore aesthetic and on the other we see burning cars. Could you explain the range of your inspiration? Where do these ideas come from?
I draw much of my inspiration from the past, I will recall a specific memory and try to express that in my paintings. My previous body of work, the Palm Flora show at Mulherin in New York, was all about bright, vibrant, ornamental colors and compositions: orange birds of paradise and acidic pink orchids were reminiscent of mid 90’s Floridian kitsch.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you like working with music at your studio. Could you tell us your top three songs to listen to while you work?
I have stopped listening to music while I work. I am now all about the podcasts. I love all of the really popular podcasts, like This American Life and Radiolab, but also listen to Modern Art Notes, Bad at Sports, Stuff you Should Know and my favorite, The Bugle! Music-wise, I love dance music.
What are we going to see at Night Tropics? Are you excited about your new exhibition?
Night Tropics is going to be my thesis exhibition, it opens April 1st, at the Pratt Institute Brooklyn campus. I am excited about it because it is the beginning of the conclusion of my Masters of Fine Arts degree! So it’s both really exciting and really scary to be finishing up school. I am planning on painting the walls of the gallery and trying to make a more immersive environment for the paintings. I am in a larger gallery that is divided into three sections so my studio mates, Matt Kelberg and Lesley Peterson will be exhibiting alongside me, and that’s really exciting for all of us to share the experience together.
How was 2014 in terms of creativity and how do you feel these first three months of the year have been? For you, is 2015 a year full of new collaborations, creation and passion for painting, and maybe traveling?
I think that 2014 and 2015 have been really good to me creatively. Having the exhibition at Mulherin New York in December was a great milestone for my paintings and being in school has been really wonderful.