Take a peek inside Karen Lamassonne’s packed studio as she celebrates her first institutional investigations in New York, Medellín and Berlin

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Colombian-American artist Karen Lamassonne, who hailed from the male-dominated art scenes of Bogotá and Cali of the 1970s and 1980s, finally gets her first institutional survey exhibition. “Ruido/Noise” opens in September at the Swiss Institute in New York and travels to the KW Institute in Berlin and the Museum of Modern Art in Medellín.

She was also part of the Colombian film movement Caliwood, editing, art direction and storyboarding at the Cali Cine Club. This cinematographic influence is reflected in his paintings and in Ruido (Noise), an installation imagined by Lamassonne in 1984 but which he will realize for the first time at the Swiss Institute. It features paintings of women lit by the glow of television screens playing an experimental video shot during a winter in New York.

This maximalist approach is reflected in the artist’s home and studio in Atlanta, in which nearly every surface is covered with artwork in various media. Where the walls aren’t filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves, there’s a salon-style hanging with its own paintings of women, often nude; works by friends and mentors such as David Manzur and Luis Ospina or purchased on trips abroad; and vintage movie posters.

Artnet News spoke to Lamassonne about how such an overwhelming environment only serves to fuel his creativity.

Karen Lamassonne’s studio in Atlanta. Photo by Allison Thorpe, courtesy of the artist.

Can you send us a photo of the most essential item in your studio and tell us why you can’t live without it?

I can’t really think of anything essential other than my hands, and then of course the desire to work in the studio, otherwise I’d probably be working in my garden. I work in many media, from watercolor, photography or pencil to embroidered tapestries, so I will always move on. Change it.

What is the studio task on your calendar this week that you are most looking forward to?

Select six music CDs to listen to and insert them into the drive.

What atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

I listen to music of all kinds, which I hear over and over again until I change CDs or put on a playlist. It keeps the audio momentum going in my brain. Sometimes I’ll even put on a favorite old movie. I don’t necessarily need to be alone – I’ve been known in the past to work while there’s a party.

Karen Lamassonne painting in 1979. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Karen Lamassonne painting in 1979. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Who are your favorite artists, curators or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

Social media is a great communication tool. I often use it to connect with my family and friends and many of them are artists, writers, curators, fashionistas and galleries all over the world. So it’s kind of nice to be able to see what news they have and add mine. It’s a fabulous new realm to see what’s going on in the world. It would be difficult to name favorites because there are so many. It can be quite addicting!

Is there a photo you can send of your current work in progress to the studio?

My current work consists of intermediate photographic prints from my archives. I use the photographic prints mounted on illustration board or watercolor paper using washes of oil pastel paint or watercolor pencils to intervene on the photo. I’m working on a few at the same time.

A work in progress by Karen Lamassonne.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

A work in progress by Karen Lamassonne. Photo courtesy of the artist.

When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get out of it?

Grab a glass of good tequila and go work in the garden. Having my hands in the earth grounds me, like a reset.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you despise the most?

I admire when a work moves me and holds my attention. I don’t like a work that doesn’t affect me at all when it’s too complicated to understand.

What images or objects do you look at while you work? Share your view from behind the canvas or your desk, where you spend the most time.

I currently live in my studio in Atlanta, so my work surrounds my life, or my life surrounds my work…and in many ways, it always has. I have traveled a lot and of course I have a “portable studio” that I take with me.

Karen Lamassonne's studio in Atlanta.  Photo by Allison Thorpe, courtesy of the artist.

Karen Lamassonne’s studio in Atlanta. Photo by Allison Thorpe, courtesy of the artist.

What is the last exhibition you saw that marked you and why?

“Alice Neel People Come First” at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Alice Neel was an incredible woman and artist. She had an incredibly intense life and in her portraits you feel precisely that. She is so moving.

I first saw his work in a solo show at the Whitney in New York about 20 years ago and was really impressed with his work. The quality of his brushstroke, the movement, it’s delicious. I really identified with the intensity of her colour, her shapes and her perspective… she painted what was around her. When I saw her working again this spring in San Francisco, it was like seeing an old friend that really excites me.

What made you choose this studio over others?

I’ve always had my studio space at home, there’s always been that requirement for me. I’m sure it influenced my work especially as my imagery was my environment, very personal and self-referential. I bought this house years ago when my son was very young, and have been here ever since.

Karen Lamassonne's studio in Atlanta.  Photo by Allison Thorpe, courtesy of the artist.

Karen Lamassonne’s studio in Atlanta. Photo by Allison Thorpe, courtesy of the artist.

Describe the space in three adjectives.

Cozy, colorful and changing.

How does the studio environment influence your way of working?

It’s nice to be at home because I take breaks, cook or take a nap at all times. I also search and connect to my archives. My work is really part of my daily life being very connected. I work as late as I want, which happens very often, because my bed is very close. There is no imposed schedule of when I work, it is on me. For the moment I don’t do very large pieces so I have room. There is also an outdoor area to work in which is nice to have.

“Karen Lamassonne: Ruido/Noise” is on view at the Swiss Institute, 38 St. Marks Place, New York, from September 14, 2022 to January 8, 2023. It will travel to the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Auguststraße 69, 10117 Berlin , Germany; and the Modern Art Museum of Medellín, Cra. 44 #19a-100, Medellin, El Poblado, Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia.

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