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News > Painting Abstract, With Traces of Reality

Painting Abstract, With Traces of Reality

Katerina Kyselica 14 March, 2014

I met artist Sue Karnet in a way typical for New York – at a random ‘meet-up’ gathering of like-minded people searching for connection; we clicked when discussing art and our hearts filled with joy when we found out we also shared a Czech background. Her father, a Czech journalist and writer Jiri Karnet, settled in New York; Sue was born a New Yorker.


Sue in her studio in East Village, 2014. Photo: Katerina Kyselica.


When I visit Sue at her studio, we can spend hours talking about everything related to art, the art history classes she teaches, what we struggle with in our work or whether it’s worth gallery hopping anytime soon. During my last visit in February, her studio was filled up with canvases and new sculptures of her popular series of Butoh Dancers. As she has been preparing the artworks for her upcoming exhibition at BBLA Gallery, I asked her a series of questions about her creative endeavors.


The life of an artist is a continuous journey. When and how did your artistic journey begin?

When I was 5 years old, my mother enrolled me in an art class at MoMA. I think that I had liked drawing even before that because there are several photos of me when I was 3 or 4 drawing; I still have many drawings that my parents saved from when I was very young. I also took classes in ceramics from the age of 7 to 11 at the Henry Street Settlement. So thinking of myself as a creative person began at a very early age. Having a father who was a writer and who was interested in the arts in general also helped inspire me. Since my father worked at home and I was often there, I was used to seeing someone spending a lot of time doing something creative.


Sue with her father Jiri Karnet. Photo courtesy Sue Karnet.


In the 1980s, when the New York art scene saw the resurgence of painting and conceptual art, you worked on your MFA thesis with Robert Morris, a prominent conceptual artist and abstract painter. What was it like to be growing up in this environment as an artist and how did it affect your artistic approach and visual language?


The era of the 1980s was a very exciting time to be a young artist. My studies at SVA and Hunter were very important for me. Robert Morris was very open-minded and I remember him talking about the contemporary architecture of New York City and films, and not just about painting and sculpture. During this period New York was so different from today. It seemed that everything was happening around me in the neighborhood where I grew up, the East Village. At SVA, Keith Haring was also a student; I remember seeing him graffiti the staircases at school and even following along after him. Many of my classmates were showing their work in small galleries. The art scene was also re-energized by the new figurative and narrative works that many young but already established artists were doing, like David Salle and Julian Schnabel. Also, the city was still a little dangerous which also made it seem more edgy, not quite like the seventies, which I also remember. I really enjoyed it much more than today. I don’t care for the art scene or NYC that much now. I find it very predictable.


Your recent works, which will be on view at BBLA Gallery in April, are a fusion between total abstraction and recognizable imagery. When I look at your earlier painting from 1980s ‘La Vache Qui Rit’, with steers and their progression from life on the hoof to dead meat, and the recent works, I can see much less of the referential symbolism. Are you heading towards a total abstraction in your paintings?

I don’t think that is my direction. This struggle has been going on for me for many years. I think it makes painting very challenging. Your studio practice includes not only painting, but drawing and sculpture. During my visit of your studio, we also looked through many collages. How exactly do you work across the media? Does work in painting inspire your work in sculpture or vice versa? Drawing is central to all my creative activities. I think most clearly when I am drawing. I like to switch between painting and sculpture. I like the contrast and it is a way for me to gain some perspective about my work. When I switch to another medium I can look back and critique previous works with more clarity.


Left: La Vache Qui Rit. Photos courtesy of Sue Karnet.


Follow Katerina's blog on Czech and Slovak art and find out more about Sue's creative endeavors...


Katerina Kyselica is a Czech-American artist, printmaker and writer based in New York City. She writes for Czech media (MF Dnes, Grapheion, Arts&Antiques, Design Magazine) and the American Journal of the Print World. She is owner of KADS NY, art & design consulting practice. Contact Katerina.

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