Caroline Larsen's Pools, Houses, Mountains and the American Dream
It’s a scorching hot day in August and the smell of fresh oil paint inside Caroline Larsen’s new Brooklyn studio is as fantastic as it is overwhelming. “I don’t feel it anymore”, Caroline tells me, which I can totally understand, since five minutes after being fully immersed in her world, I no longer do either. Plus, the visual stimulation of having dozens of canvases filled with the most saturated colors and layered textures definitely subordinates any olfactory sense to a second plane, bringing the visual and tactile sense forward (and if these works could be edible, I would have certainly tried to taste them too). Her paintings look like embroideries, sometimes like beaded works, needle point or crochet. They are accomplished by extruding paint through confectionery bags with different tips to create a variety of textures. A unique take on traditional painting techniques is something that I’m always on the lookout for: how are these young artists moving painting forward? What are they bringing to our times that we hadn’t seen before? How fresh and innovative is their work? Caroline’s techniques are checking those boxes for me.
Caroline was born in Toronto but moved to Florida when she was around nine years old. She started art school as a ceramicist, where in her first year she checked the work of some second-year students and noticed somebody had made a wedding cake using extruded paint. That caused a spark in her brain, but it wasn’t until a year after, when she had to get her wisdom teeth removed, that she saw herself surrounded by syringes, which became new tools to try on. An assignment to work on a collage with thick paint is how she began exploring what would become the technique that is now so characteristic of her work. Drawing inspiration by Chris Ofili, the idea of putting dots on everything has also informed her practice, hence the thick dots on her work that sometimes become lines or sometimes become waves. The syringes were replaced by confectionery bags and she has been deeply exploring, almost obsessively, this technique since 2009. The canvas are stretched over panels because of the sheer amount of paint that she uses on each of them. They take a long time to dry, about a month in the summer and probably two months or more in the winter. Caroline says sometimes she feels that the paintings are crawling on her - and rightly so, as they contain so much liveliness, power and movement.
Flower paintings can be so cliché and kitschy but not in Caroline’s hands; where it becomes a multicolor riot of saturated hues with the deepest of textures, each one so different and so special. And then there is her series of mountains, which look like needlepoint yarn, to the extent that when I first saw one, I had to touch it to understand what it was made of: layers of extruded oil paint placed in orderly lines that form a lattice pattern, whose extra added texture comes from the tip of the confectionery bag. But her houses and pools series are my favorites. I love the fact that background and forefront are so very intense; they aren’t competing but are on equal planes. This series has cultural implications and ramifications that are connected to wealth and the search of the American Dream plus the sociological implications of these houses. Caroline became interested in the narrative of the American Dream and researched images on real estate ads, magazines, newspapers, finding the ones in Palm Spring to be the most compelling. California is always around us, with desserts and hills, with Hollywood and movie stars, on TV and everywhere else. These houses have no entrance and no people around, it is really a dream. And the pools are always associated with success, with being rich. Coincidentally a few days prior, a friend of mine told me that his dad, a man who escaped the Cuban revolution in the 60s and moved to Miami with nothing, told everyone that they all had made it in the United States because he and each of his kids had a house with a pool in the yard
Caroline had a very successful solo show at The Hole this past spring, and has two upcoming solos in the fall: one in in Santa Monica at the Craig Krull Gallery and one at Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv. Although the speed with which she’s becoming sought-after doesn’t really match the speed that it takes her work to dry, Caroline is prolifically creating stunning paintings in her studio and enthralling the senses of those lucky enough to be in front of one.