ArtFactory Blog

CREATIVE SPOTLIGHT                          - Erin Karp

1) Where were you raised? Can you paint a picture of your childhood?
I was born in Manhattan to an abstract oil painter & a fashion designer & spent my first years in a light-filled loft in the West Village.  We moved to Teaneck, NJ when I was almost 5 so that my sister & I could go to public school where public schools were actually decent (they were horrendous in NYC in the 80s).  Teaneck is an incredibly diverse town & I'm proud I grew up there & that I still had access to NYC growing up.  I've always been surrounded by art; my dad's paintings & those of others hang all over my childhood home, along with sculptures, African masks, & pottery.  When my sister & I used to go to bed, we'd tell each other what we'd see in my dad's paintings that hung in our bedroom.  I also grew up seeing my dad painting in his studio & mom creating clothing in hers.  She made our clothes until I was in 8th grade.  She also played flute & piano, & music always played an important role in our house.  My parents encouraged me to create & to think for myself, to see the world in a different way.  I grew up singing, alone at first, then harmonizing with my sister, then in choral groups like madrigals; I also did musical theatre.
          2) Did you always create art as a kid, or did you come to it later in life?
I did (what were then) typical projects as a kid: drawing, weaving, using clay, making "friendship" bracelets from embroidery thread... My mom worked from home for our early years & then my parents swapped and my dad worked from home while my mom worked in NYC.  During summers, she would make "camps" for me & my sister, which included a day's worth of creative activities that she somehow set up before she left in the morning, like scavenger hunts in the backyard, drawing assignments, tea parties with stuffed animals, etc.  We had a really fun & creative set of parents and grew up in what I consider a really unique way.  I was bound to be involved in the arts in some respect, though I didn't start photographing until 
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my dad gave me his old Pentax Asahi when I was a teenager; I learned on film & in a darkroom & reluctantly switched to a DSLR in 2009, though I still shoot manually, in natural light.  My dad tried to teach me to paint when I was 13, but for whatever reason I wasn't interested.
3) which artists have influenced your work? Why and how? 
To be frank, my father's paintings have been the biggest influence on the way I see the world; I grew up in a house filled with them & watching him work in his studio.  He is an abstract oil painter & a master of color &, perhaps by osmosis or by DNA, I definitely absorbed his abstract eye.  Outside of my dad, I've always enjoyed the works of Kandinsky, Hans Hoffman, & Miró, but I haven't been influenced by any specific photographers.  I want to see the world in my own way; I don't want to try to emulate other peoples' work.
          4) any other influences (people, places, ideas)?
I grew up hiking & spending time in nature & have always had an appreciation of and fascination with the wonder of Mother Earth.  I mean, just think about flowers...humans have nothing to do with them, we didn't create them, & they are perfectly imperfect.  Today, travel & European architecture, in particular, influence me in a major way, though not in a conventional way; I see in details and juxtapositions, light, shadow, & shape.  When we stop to appreciate the details, the world becomes a really interesting place. 
5) tell me about your practice—how do you generate ideas, what medium do you use
I lived in Sevilla, Spain for a life-changing year spread between 2003-2004 & 2009, and my appreciation for travel, language, cultures, & architecture - particularly European - blossomed during that year.  My photography began with a focus on details in the natural world, but it evolved to truly embrace architecture. I have always seen in an abstract way, I've always noticed details that others often ignore; I see beauty in what others may consider mundane.  I am most inspired to shoot when I'm traveling outside of the USA.  There is so much art and culture when you leave this country, I find it incredibly refreshing & inspiring.  I live in NYC now & sometimes have to force myself to photograph here, whereas when I'm in Europe, I don't want to do anything but wander around with my camera.  I work best when I am alone, as well.
          6) is your art more concept-driven or image-driven?
My art is completely image-driven; I stop in my tracks when I see something I find beautiful and interesting.  My photographs are created in the camera, in the moment; I do not use Photoshop, I do not crop; I compose while I'm shooting, I know exactly what I want to say with my images. 
 
7) why do you make the art you make?
I make the art I make because I have no other choice; I can't not take the kinds of photographs I do.  I find photography therapeutic.  Photography forces me to look for beauty in an oftentimes ugly world (politically, environmentally, socially, etc.).  When I'm feeling down, walking around with my camera makes me feel alive, makes me appreciate life.
         8) does your art influence your life, and vice versa?
Absolutely.  My art is a huge part of my life & the way I see the world is what I translate through my camera lens.
         9) what do you think about the notion "the lonely artist"? 
Being an artist is lonely.  I am an extrovert, but I also require alone time, perhaps more than others.  I learned on film & in a darkroom, which is typically a very lonely, quiet, meditative space.  I create best when I'm alone, when I have peace & quiet & am able to ruminate on what I'm doing, without worrying about holding people up when I'm struck by something.  I prefer to travel alone for that reason.  Sometimes my photography is motivated by loneliness & I sometimes see that emotion in my images; I rarely shoot people, but when I do, they are isolated & often the feeling I find myself trying to capture is their loneliness.  I see beauty in flowers that are dying, with missing & shriveled petals; in grasses that are dried. I suppose this sounds depressing, but it doesn't feel depressing to me because I also find beauty in their life, in their color, patterns & shapes.  I think it's important to appreciate and acknowledge life in all stages, not just at its height.  In Tuscany, I drove past a sunflower field where all of the sunflowers were drooped over and burnt by the sun; I found the haunting image absolutely beautiful.  My architectural shots are also in the same vein; I find a beauty in that which is abandoned, rusted, imperfect, though I am also motivated by color & vibrancy & contrasts.  I suppose I see a certain level of what I consider perfection in imperfection.  I notice regularly that balance is something I strive for in my images, consciously or subconsciously; a balance of light and shadow, for instance, which is likely a reflection of my internal struggle of finding beauty in an often upsetting world.  On another hand, rejection in the art world can also lend to a sense of loneliness, a feeling of not being understood, & I think every person alive wants to feel understood.
         10) does your art connect you to the world in some way, or does it help you navigate the world?
My photography directly connects me with the world & it helps me navigate the world.  I am a thinker & I sometimes think too much; I can get caught up in the ugly in this world, in our destruction, in our errors as a species.  Photography centers me and forces me to find beauty in the world I often find ugly; it keeps me going.
          11) do you make art for yourself or other people?
I make art for myself, for my mental sanity, and I share it with the hope that others will respond to it and feel good around it.  I want my photographs to make people feel, to understand that there is beauty everywhere we look, especially in the tiniest details.  I want my art to uplift, as that's the effect it has on me.
12) what purpose do you think art serves today?
I think art is vital in connecting people with their emotions, in making people feel.  In a world with so much plastic and falseness and reality tv, it's easy for people to emotionally "check out"; I think we all need to check back in with ourselves & feel.  The kind of art I want to be around makes me feel good, sometimes makes me want to cry tears of joy or tears of sadness, much like the purpose music plays for me.  My favorite musicians are Bjork & Radiohead, both of which can be extraordinarily melancholic & exceptionally beautiful at the same time.  I want to be around art like that, art that makes me feel.  Art that makes my soul sing or my heart ache in a way that makes me feel alive, in a way that makes me appreciate life.

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