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Fruit and Foliage: An Interview with Caroline Larsen

Danni Shen, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.

Larsen-pair-one-take-2Caroline Larsen’s Fruit in Foliage series in Wave Hill House’s Tea Room at Wave Hill House, concurrent with the exhibition (Not So) Still Life on view in Glyndor Gallery, depicts still life images of fruit and other flora that evoke an exuberant tropical frenzy. It draws on the artist’s recollections of her upbringing in Sarasota, Florida, of time she spent in Panama as an adult, as well as her love of textiles and patterning. Only upon closer examination of the tactile surfaces does it become apparent that the pictures are not woven fabrics, but, rather, elaborately applied oil paint. Larsen’s process involves loading the paint into piping bags and squeezing it onto the canvas to create delicately layered and brilliantly hued coats of paint. Lines and layers seem to weave over one another in lushly textured networks that create an assortment of rich, material densities. Employing what the artist refers to as a “sincere kitschiness,” as well as a sense of chromatic pleasure, each painting presents a masterful display of ornamental and vibrant color. The resultant works exhibit a harmonious balance of painting and sculptural relief, recognizable form and nonrepresentational image.

The show opened April 5, and hangs until the end of August. Visitors are welcome to attend  Wave Hill’s Spring Exhibitions Reception―including Larsen’s work in Wave Hill House―on Sunday, April 10, from 2 to 4. A Meet-The-Artist with Larsen will also take place on Sunday, July 24, 3pm.

Danni Shen: Your imagery often references lush plant arrangements or landscapes. Do you create works from direct observation or gather source material in your process?

Caroline Larsen: I work from observation and photos, and a lot of improvisation. All of my paintings start with a Sharpie drawing, and I go from there. I keep plants, rocks, shells and some textiles in my studio, but once I’m underway with a painting, I won’t usually look at any of my source material.

DS: How do you see themes of still life as relating to your work?

CL: I have always been interested in the subject of still life. I love flowers, shells, fruits all mounded together. In a way, it’s like a living collage! I didn’t want to paint cut flowers, because the flowers start dying once you cut them. That’s also where my interest in succulents, cactus and gardens stems from.

DS: What is it about the tropics or “tropical” that is interesting to you?

CL: I grew up in Florida and often use memories of landscapes and imagery that I experienced during my childhood as a springboard. So my interest in tropical landscapes really comes from my lived experiences. Spending time in Panama as an adult greatly influenced my aesthetic. A lot of my imagery is evocative of a kind of celebratory tropical frenzy. My earlier work explores the sensation of being in the tropical landscape at night, when the heat exaggerates the saturation of the night hues. These paintings also start to play with the idea of abstraction. I hope they coexist between a recognizable pictorial form and a nonrepresentational image―I’m interested in that in-between. I feel like the fruit paintings also embrace the same elements. Fruits and plants are so similar! The background, rather than being passive, actively competes with the flora image in the foreground of each painting. That tension is heightened by using contrasting vibrant color, along with a rich material density. A constant focus of all of my work is also the attentiveness to color and its role in imparting feeling. The paintings use a full color palette, and it is my intention that they be as ornamental and vibrant as possible.


DS: Upon first glance, your paintings look like woven textiles.

CL: I am so interested in textiles! For this series, the fruits are abstracted to the point that they appear at first glance to be vivid patterns you would find on fabrics, or heavily textured weavings/carpets. I see my images as “knitted” together by cable-like brushstrokes, but the activity of the color breaks the surface plane. The texture of the painting application also acts as a kind of line and pattern, which becomes an organizing form in and of itself. I like how the ridges of paint cast shadows and create optical rhythms.

DS: What are your inspirations?

CL: I love to look at plants, including visiting botanical gardens and nurseries in the summer. I draw a lot of inspiration from fashion, as well, looking at the different patterns in clothing and how colors interact has always been a great starting point for me.

DS: Where do you see your practice heading?

CL: I want to start working on a much larger scale and use different mark-making styles within the same painting.


Pictured above, from the top:
Caroline Larsen, Bananaram, 2016. Oil on Board. 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Caroline Larsen,
Exotic Flowers, 2016. Oil on Board. 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Caroline Larsen,
Fruit Bowl with Leaves, 2016. Oil on Canvas. 31 x 27 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Caroline Larsen,
Fruit Bowl, 2015. Oil on Board. 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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