Karen Revis is a painter, papermaker and printmaker living in New York City. Madison Bennett sat down in the Bindery to discuss her three-week residency at the Morgan, how she got her start as an artist, and what she’s been listening to lately.
MB: I loved one of your pieces, the paper litho, that had the bubbles on it. Would you say you find perfection in the imperfections?
KR: Absolutely, the more the better.
MB: When do you feel like a piece is done?
KR: Well, with my monoprints, it’s just instinctual. Sometimes I do question it, because I am a minimalist. My paintings were very minimal. That work was just one or two colors, and now I’m moving into work with all this imagery.
MB: How has that shift been?
KR: Oh my god, it’s just opened up so much for me. It’s still really difficult. There’s somebody that I follow on Instagram (@stevenalexanderstudio) who does stripes in these beautiful colors, and when I see it, it almost pulls me back.
I think it’ll all come together; I’ll start to concentrate more on color. This work that I’m doing now is all indigo. I’m obsessed with the color indigo. So, at some point, my work now will become more colorful, and by that, more minimal.
MB: How did you become an artist?
KR: My parents were artists. My dad, he was a goldsmith, and I grew up hanging out at my dad’s studio. My mom was an artist of sorts. She cut and set stones, but she was also behind my dad.
I always took art classes, I always had a sketch book. I’ve always drawn. But right out high school, I majored in criminal justice. I worked in the field and realized it wasn’t for me. So, I decided: I want to do what my dad does. I want to make jewelry. I apprenticed with him...which was ridiculous. He wouldn’t let me do anything! So, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I went to a local community college to do my foundation courses, and the minute I took a painting class, I was done. I was like, painting is my jam.
MB: I love your rings. Is your jewelry collection insane?
KR: You know, it’s funny, I tend to wear the same things every day. I do have some wonderful things. If fact, this ring [points to her left ring finger] my dad’s friend made, and my mom gave this to my dad for their 45th anniversary. Now it’s my wedding ring.
MB: That’s really special. Sometimes I think of goldsmithing like papermaking. It’s historically a “trade,” but so often transcends the “trade” and becomes an “art form.” Is there something about watching someone with that discipline that you think influenced you as an artist?
KR: No (laughs). My sister did not go into arts at all. It’s definitely my spirit. My parents were kind of hippies. We did yoga and meditation—
MB: Even before it was cool?
KR: Totally. I think I was just a maker. Early on, I would lock myself into the bathroom, go under the sink and get all the peroxide, Comet, and see what I could make. And if you look at my work, all of it’s process. I was lucky enough to figure out I could parlay that into the art world.
MB: The experimentation is really the beautiful part for you.
KR: So much so I have a hard time finishing work. That’s my thing that I need to get over. I get too bored with something after I’ve done it.
MB: Well, it seems like you’ve really hit your stride with printmaking.
KR: But I don’t think that I’ll be an “edition” printmaker.
MB: Why do you say that?
KR: Well, all the papers I’m making to print on are all funky and different. I kind of treat my them like paintings. I’ll work with the same images over and over again, but they’ll be one-offs.
MB: I know a lot of people who initially come into papermaking because it allows them to control what they’re printing on, but it seems like that’s not necessarily what attracted you to paper.
KR: No, because as a painter, I made paper as standalone pieces and never printed on them. But now that is true: I do want to control the paper I’m working on. And it’s so much better than paper you can buy. You can do way more with it.
MB: What do you listen to when you’re in residency?
KR: I can never listen to new music when I’m working, but I was just listening to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. They’re amazing. I like everything from rap to classical. And I started listening to books on tap—audiobooks, I guess you would call them. Right now, I’m listening to Michelle Obama’s new book.
MB: Becoming? I’ve been on the very long wait list for it at the library since January!
KR: She narrates it, so she and I have been hanging out in the studio.
Facebook: Karen J. Revis
Written by Madison Bennett
Photos by Jacqueline Bon
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison Bennett is a born-and-raised Clevelander, who conducts interviews with artists-in-residence and interns at the Morgan. This fall, she will begin her MFA in Book Arts at the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book.