WELCOME TO DELVE INTERVIEWS, A LOOK INTO THE UNIQUE PATHS OF ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS. This year, we are focusing our Interviews and Gatherings on the theme: Creating Change.
Quiet or loud, social practice to solo studio painting, emerging to established, an artist’s voice is crucial to highlighting and synthesizing our human experience. We are interested in the critical eye and what it reveals, whether it’s a subtle visual pun or a loud, public proclamation. Art that comes from personal experience or a sense of civil responsibility resonates strongly, and has the power to activate society and potentially reimagine its structure.
Get your ticket here for our first event of 2018 in New York City at CUE Art Foundation on June 26, 2018.
Our first interview of this theme is with the artist Karen Mainenti. She is currently a 2018 Artist-in-Residence at the Bard Graduate Center Library. She has exhibited at La Bodega Gallery and Trestle Gallery in Brooklyn; Gallery MC and the Society for Domestic Museology in New York; Guest Spot @ The Reinstitute in Baltimore Maryland; and the Cornell Museum of Art in Delray Beach, Florida. Her work has been featured on Hyperallergic, Gothamist, Brooklyn Magazine and BmoreArt. In 2014, her outdoor street art installation, DUMBO Underfoot, was exhibited at the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn, and she had a solo show at Chashama's pop-up gallery in the Garment District. In 2013, she attended the School of Visual Arts Summer Residency Program in Painting & Mixed Media and was a visiting artist at the Tulsa Girls Art School in Oklahoma.
Describe your current work and how it fits into the theme, Creating Change.
My latest work is a series of graphite drawings which explore the similarities between the apologies made by men accused of sexual harassment as a result of the #metoo movement and the fault-finding marketing claims commonly featured on women's beauty products. It struck me how unusual it was for a man to acknowledge his flaws, particularly in a public manner, and wanted to draw attention to this. I appropriate these repentant quotes from each man's statement and pair them with popular consumer products like Irish Spring, Barbasol and Speed Stick. Each quote is then given further context by using elements from the actual packaging design—"Maximum confidence! Feel clean and fresh!” —thus exposing the irony of such a juxtaposition.
Does this work come from personal experience or a sense of civil responsibility, or both?
My artistic practice is rooted in my personal experience as a woman whose identity has been impacted by society's absurd and unnatural expectations of perfection. With the recent rise of the #metoo movement, I was stunned and delighted to finally see men being held accountable for actions that are all too familiar for women but have long gone unmentioned. The momentum of the movement has motivated me to contribute to these essential conversations about the dehumanizing power norms in the United States and create cultural change for women.
Do current events inform or guide your artistic decisions and processes? If so, how?
Ideas for my artwork come from observations of everyday life around me. For example, if I’m watching the news, I’ll notice the glaring disparity in appearance and age between male and female broadcasters. If I’m out shopping, I’ll be struck by the gendered marketing for something as generic as ear plugs: blue “Hearos” for men, “Sleep Pretty in Pink” for women. Following this initial spark, I’ll begin to decide how best to shed light on my discovery through visual expression.
What is the artist's role in creating change?
I believe the inventiveness of artists inevitably creates change, whether they intend it or not. It could be as simple as provoking the viewer to look at something in a new light, or more strongly challenging prevailing ideas or norms. Sometimes, art has an immediate impact. In other cases, the work is not fully recognized for its significance until years, decades, or centuries later. It’s disturbing to me that the Guerilla Girls’ poster “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”, created in 1989, is still so relevant today.
How do you find balance with living your life and making this work?
For me, the two are absolutely intertwined. My observations of the world and my place in it as a woman inspire my artwork and continually fuel new ideas. It's cathartic to bring a sense of humor to issues that trouble me.