Karen J. Revis in the Land of Happy AccidentsMay 9, 2014
Even as a student, workspace resident Karen J. Revis was doing things her way: adding wax to her paint and eschewing brushes and canvas for palette knives and plexi. She wanted to get in there and push paint around, she wanted to be engulfed in a process.
“It’s always been about the materials,” says Karen, who is at WSW to make cotton and abaca pulp paintings. “I’m always looking for the painting in the mess. I’m looking for ways to push and pull the materials to find what’s beautiful.”
Now a full-time artist with a studio and gallery representation, Karen’s bodies of work include acrylic pours on plexi, encaustics, and silkscreen monoprints. Karen is absolutely smitten with the grid: “I look at it and I think, How can a grid possibly be so beautiful?” All her pieces are propped up by its structure in super-simple compositions that belie the complexity of their creation. Her vocabulary is clean and minimal, played out in a visual feast of seductive, glossy surfaces; luscious, luminous color fields; and geometric blacks and whites.
“I make art because I am constantly making this beautiful thing in my head just for myself, this pink that I want to see everywhere,” says Karen excitedly. “I want you to see it, too.”
For Karen, abstraction is about play, and her process exuberantly embraces trial and error. Karen came to WSW with complex plans to use laser-cut stencils based on inkblot paintings and drawings of undulating, abstract forms. Using syringes and squirt bottles full of electric pink, blue, and orange tinted pulp, she squirted the pulp into stencils and then layered those shapes onto wet, freshly pulled sheets of paper. But the process was riddled with technical issues, and the paintings dried looking chalky or muddy, losing all the vibrancy Karen craves.
And then, she stumbled onto a breakthrough: frustrated, Karen emptied her bottles of pulp onto a large sheet of paper, creating softly vibrating stripes of rose, fuchsia, and coral. As the pulp diffused and dried, it left a fuzzy, uneven mark, as though something were dragging across the surface. It’s a mark that Karen couldn’t stand at first.
“It’s a sign of maturity that I’m even allowing that piece to sit out for everyone to see,” says Karen of her pink experiment. “I am not kidding: it’s awful. But it got me to the next place. Had I not made so many mistakes with the stencils, I wouldn’t have just emptied out all that pulp, and I wouldn’t have seen those lines.”
Now, Karen is working with the mark instead of against it, is learning to harness its potential. Squirting lines of black pulp across a white sheet, Karen builds subtle, complex striations of gray that butt up against hard-edged stripes in the deepest black. (“You have to have some order in all this chaos.”) And in a separate method (another serendipitous accident) Karen is gingerly folding wet sheets of pulp in on themselves–as if making paper airplanes or origami swans–as the sheets lay couched on their pelons. In a precarious moment, she lays a folded sheet onto another wet sheet, both drying and fusing into one piece of paper. The results are reductive, geometric pieces a world away from what Karen thought she’d be making, yet simply and perfectly her.
Of course, it takes two excruciating days for a pulp painting to dry; two days before Karen knows if what she’s doing is working. Karen checks a freshly dried piece of paper: a large pink field stacks atop a white one like a thin, hyper-flattened Rothko, slight variations in pulp distribution lending it a delicate, almost wispy texture. It’s not right yet, but it’s getting there.
“This always happens to me, which is why I keep my eyes open and I believe that there’s always something there,” Karen says. “I’ve learned to live in the land of happy accidents, to see what kinds of errors I can make. Even when you can’t see the way, you have to show up and keep doing it.”
Karen J. Revis is a New York City-based artist educated at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and Pratt Institute. She is represented by Sears-Peyton Gallery (New York) and has shown her work across New York City and Beyond. Karen brought the 2003 movie “Something’s Gotta Give” with her to WSW because it always makes her want to paint: “There has to be 100 shades of white in this movie. It cleanses my color palette!” For more of Karen’s work, visit her at www.karenjrevis.com and for more behind-the-scenes shots of her WSW residency, follow her on instagram: @karenjrevis.