ART & CULTURE | by AIDHA BADR | 10 JULY 2020
CAROLINE ELEANOR ABSHER: FINDING CALMNESS AMIDST CHAOS
When I first came across Caroline, it was through a friend who direct messaged me a selfie of Caroline and they captioned it "you." and since then, I've felt a strong ambient connection to Caroline. Being completely inspired by her work ethic and her just being centered and graceful and a get-it-done kind of girl, like a whimsical fairy of some sort, a crossover of Tinker Bell and Carhartt pants. This is LOS GATOS in conversation with the 26-year-old Brooklyn painter and designer Caroline Eleanor Absher. Discussing painting, set design, femininity, and the beauty in domestication.
LOS GATOS: Tell me a little bit about yourself
CAROLINE ABSHER: I’m 26 years old. My life is divided (so far) between a small, conservative, religious town in South Carolina and New York City. I moved to New York when I was 18 to pursue a degree in Art History, but have always been a painter. As a kid, I wasn’t into drawing or anything else. Just painting. Finally, it makes sense to explore other mediums. Trying out smaller drawings now. There’s always been such a pull towards large surfaces, because it forces the maker to connect with their body. My studio is in Brooklyn, and I’ve been working on a series for a while that is constantly morphing into a new thing, so I restart the series and the cycle continues. Maybe that’s just how it works.
Home Is A Green Dusk
GATOS: What are some of the themes you explore in your paintings?
ABSHER: Well, they’re figurative, and the subjects are usually focused on either the viewer or some task. They all have a certain personality to them, I think of them as friendly yet distant, like they can see you through the veil, but you can’t see them. They may be guarding you. The idea of protection is huge. I paint them, and then as they sit in my studio, fully formed, I do feel watched over. It is a peaceful effect. Hopefully they calm people, or remind people of something/ someone that brings them a feeling of calmness.
GATOS: Was there a time in your life where you had to make compromises between your two different passions (painting and set design)?
ABSHER: Yes, initially building a career/community in set design was highly demanding, and I wasn’t able to paint as much as I wanted to. After I was established, I made more paintings than ever. Now, in 2020, I have no job and nothing to do and cannot paint. Having true love for something means there’s always a good reason not to do it. In this case, it’s a whole pandemic amidst daily protests and political activism. I think the career vs. making artwork question becomes dangerous because it forces you to value one over the other in your mind. In reality, life is long, and things just flow in and out until the end when (and this is the goal) it’s all balanced out.
Freeing The Plant
Spirit Cat II
GATOS: Has being on set ever been conducive to inspiring your paintings?
ABSHER: Yes! Well, it’s endless turnover. You have to meet new people all the time, and you’re working alongside them in a confined space for long hours. You get to know someone so quickly in that environment. You get to the good parts of conversation so easily. Their stories, tragedies, advice, and humor have changed the way I see the world, which shapes my paintings.
GATOS: How do you combine/balance the masculine essence of being on set and the feminine tendencies in your artwork?
ABSHER: Love this question. On set, unfortunately there’s a tendency to dilute/suppress feminine energies, resulting in a personality that I honestly don’t recognize. This is a whole conversation, and the “boys club” nature of the film industry is something that can only be felt or known from the eyes of a woman in the film industry. It’s hard to explain, and progress is slowly being made. I have always felt generally respected, But who is to say whether or not that has to do with my ability to morph into what they want. Anyway, as soon as I return home, or to the studio, I put on a silk robe and dance and find the feminine once more because I am unable to be without her for very long.
GATOS: Given the carnivalesque nature of your profession, how would you describe the place where you feel calm and domesticated the most?
ABSHER: It’s tempting to say “nature” but lately even nature is anxiety inducing because I’m thinking about global warming or something. So really the answer is anywhere, as long as it’s with someone safe. You know those incredibly special people who, when they’re around, like tinnitus suddenly ceasing, the anxiety just…vanishes. Finding one every so often is like coming home
GATOS: Having a dominant female subject matter in your work, do you find peace in the idea of motherhood?
ABSHER: Everyone with a womb has a different response to this, and they are all correct. For me, the idea brings peace, excitement, happiness. I’m working with my mother in closing the loop of our generational trauma first. This work is very important to me and I feel so fortunate that she’s here and willing.
GATOS: New York can be so chaotic sometimes, but you always express some small moments that bring you peace and calmness, can you describe some of those moments?
ABSHER: Standing in the subway crossing the bridge with a perfect song playing. Eye contact with a stranger you’ve probably met in some other life, that moment of recognition. The birds in Prospect Park. How nature or everything else that is not New York feels so much more gratifying once you have it again. Finally, even though I’m not religious, sitting in thick, stone, Neo-Gothic cathedrals and listening to the leaping roar of the streets silence as the giant doors swing shut behind you.
All images courtesy the artist.