Layered Experience: Carola Persson in The StudioSeptember 20, 2018
The layers in Carola Persson’s prints build up like memories, marks emerg strong and clear while others fade into the background or lurk off to the side. With allusive line work, her scenes are charged with emotion and tell stories of a vast internal landscape.Interested in the dynamic of the individual and the group, Persson explores this theme by asking “how do we as people evolve? how do we relate to each other? are we stronger when we’re an individual or with a group?” These questions guide her work and manifest in various forms through her paintings, drawings, prints, and artists books.
Persson’s work tells stories, “sometimes it’s my own and sometimes it’s [stories of] others, but coming through my eyes and my hands.” These stories relate to the theme that, for her, has “always been there.” Persson recognizes the tug between the individual and the group through a memory she recounts “In school I was really good at math, so I was pushed into studying engineering. I didn’t ask what that would mean or look like, I was just expected to follow a certain path because I had certain skills, but the path doesn’t always match what makes you happy. It was not until I was in my 30’s that I could put words to this, but it was in my imagery and it was in my emotional state.” Having taken painting lessons since she was 12, making art was an outlet that became “suppressed” while earning her degree in Engineering. Persson went on to study at The School of Visual Arts in New York City where she continued to paint and began working more with printmaking and drawing.
There is a combination of multiple printing techniques and mediums in her pieces, using screenprint, intaglio, polymer plates, and blind debossing to create subtle detail, “I often work with transparencies and different layers. I think of it as the different layers we have as individuals.” Her use of blind deboss is reminiscent of the invisible forces that leave their imprint on us, the unseen shaping of our identity that happens as we move through the world. “Sometimes I use the same image with different prints over them to represent the equalities that we have in life, we are the same in some ways but we also have differences.” The subtlety of the debossed image suggests that our similarities require more effort to notice, often buried under the visible aspects of our differences. But once you see them they emerge clear.
Constraint and resourcefulness are tensions that runs through her practice. Persson’s approach to a project can largely depend on many outside factors, such as the size of a gallery, the amount of space in her apartment, and presently what she can fit in a suitcase. Although these can be limiting factors, Persson is adaptable and works this to her advantage, “I take in the space and think about what I want to do, I adjust to my environment. When I was younger I went wild in size but now I’m adapting to life and living conditions.” This absorption of her surroundings is a way to settle in the space and understand how to best create within it.
Related to this tension, there is recurring avian imagery throughout her work. Arms turning into wings, blind debossments of birds, child-like line drawings of birds in flight, “birds appear a lot in my work because they seem so free to me. Of course, they are also affected by their genetics and having to collect food, etc. but they seem so free.” Perhaps this is an attraction to freedom from constraints imposed internally and externally.
Despite the loose appearance of her prints and drawings, they are thoroughly planned out and considered, “I take time selecting the specific photo or sketch or paper. Mostly, I generate a sketch from a photo or a photo from a sketch, they play off each other in direct response.” For Persson, printmaking combines control and spontaneity, requiring techniques that take foresight and intuitive aesthetic choices. “It’s like when you go to a concert or see a dancer, there is a lot of technique but it looks so easy, a lot of work goes into making something look easy.”
The interplay of mediums used in her work allows for a more complex narrative to develop. The contrast created from a photograph placed next to a drawing, the real versus the imaginary, or layering the invisible with the visible, creating echoes of recurring imagery, reminds the viewer that our perception, our identities, are constructed from within these tensions.
Carola Persson is an artist living and working in Malmö, Sweden. Since learning to paint at age twelve, she has continued to learn and work with new methods and materials whenever possible. Her coursework includes four semesters at the School of Visual Arts in New York, a degree in electrical engineering from Lund University, and her Bachelors of Science in Education from Umeå University. In her practice, Carola views herself as an observer, reflecting on the human need to belong in a group or society balanced against the need to be on one’s own and make personal choices. She explores these themes through drawing, printmaking, installation, collage, book arts, painting, and photography.