Carolyn Case: The mythic and the mundane

Carolyn Case, Suburban Mom, 2017, oil on panel, 40 x 42 inches

Contributed by William Eckhardt Kohler / The more I look at the paintings by Carolyn Case in her show “Homemade Tattoo,� on view�at Asya Geisberg through October 14, the more surprising I find them. Defying spatial orientation, they slip and slide, sideways, up and down. Identifiable and abstract forms fly sprawl and spill with constantly shifting velocity, slashing strokes bumping up against spills and careful picks and pokes, making something one can almost put a finger on, but not quite.

Carolyn Case, Bookshelf Safety, 2017, oil on panel, 51 x 51 inches

Case digs in with persistence, perseverance, and painterly inventiveness. Seeing this, one might think that paint and painting are the subject of these paintings, but that is only true in part. The paintings have a quality of haphazard unplanned accumulation like a tent city: chaotic, alive, colorful and in the throes of creation or under threat of imminent dissolution. They also have a serenity in the way that Case repeatedly erases the paint, sanding back down to and through the white ground to create an ethereal glow. In this way the form and language of paint and painting strike me as inseparable from her experiences in life as a parent, teacher, and seeker.

Bookshelf Safety is a wild painting that holds a tightly compressed center constructed of vertical colored bands, presumably the book shelf of the title, interspersed with pointillist dots. Before viewers can become too certain about what they are seeing, though, fissures open in the painting�s architecture and snippets of mask-like eyes emerge. From its dense center the painting opens up into the surrounding area of diaphanous layers of color and light. The painting suggests both the interiority and intimacy of artists like Bonnard and Vuillard and the ecstatic expansiveness of a painting by Turner, the sublime and the spiritual emerging via the everyday.

Carolyn Case, Homemade Tattoo, 2017, oil on panel, 42 x 50 inches
Carolyn Case, Sunset, 2017, oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Domesticity and fantasy merge in many of the paintings. The scattered forms in Homemade Tattoo suggest the disorder�of a child�s playroom. The topographical view is at once�reinforced by blue lines and undercut by their faintness, as if from a waterlogged composition book. The lines can be read as part of a floor or carpet pattern, but they also lie back and become the stylized waves of some distant paradise. A few explicit images can be picked out from the sprawl: a tree, leaves, something that could be a face. The title for this piece and for the show comes from the artist�s observation that her students accrue tattoos based on whatever is happening in the moment of their lives, which Case regards as analogous to her own working method.

Carolyn Case, Meditation Mind, 2017, oil on panel, 18 x 20 inches

Meditation Mind is the most compact of the�pieces in the show. In it, a near rectangle with weird bulbous appendages floats at a slight diagonal in a field of glowing white and shifting blue lines. One way to read this image, going off the title, is as an analogy to�the mind, not quite contained, floating on the sea of the unconscious, in meditation. Yet, despite the relatively languid tempo of the�piece, there is something desolate about that central form, like a fragmenting piece of flotsam, a provisional and metaphysical raft of the medusa afloat in the ocean, without even a rescue ship in sight. Indeed, for all the beauty in these paintings–the lovely color, sensuous paint handling, playfulness, and general ebullience–they also seem marked by an awareness of our impending collective disintegration. And why not? The present�world, in which we live�and�are raising our children, is an unsettling one.

Carolyn Case: Homemade Tatoo,� Asya Geisberg, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through October 14, 2017.

All Images Courtesy of Asya Geisberg Gallery. Photography by Etienne Frossard.

About the author:�A graduate of the Maryland Art Institute,�Willie Kohler�is a painter who works in Long Island City�and is�represented by�Linda Warren Projects�in�Chicago.�He is a regular contributor to the arts section at�HuffPost.

Related posts:
What�s so strange at Fredericks & Freiser�s �Strange Abstraction�?
VERNACULAR: A painterly conversation about abstraction
Art and Film: Elizabeth Murray and the splendor of the ordinary


  1. Yes, this work does remind me of disintegration, the disintegration of painting. This work is a mess.

  2. Anne from Brooklyn

    For traditional still life painters like John, Case�s paintings are challenging because they don�t aspire to the same goals as the old masters–realistic depiction of objects and landscapes, moody chiaroscuro, etc. Case would rather capture something essential and unique about the artist�s experience of the 21st century–not create shitty versions of the same old paintings we�ve seen a million times before.

  3. I think John, A touch of OCD may be impeding your view of the work…I just love and have shared with many artists.

  4. Thanks Anne and Melinda…I appreciate both the measured and cutting quality of your responses. I’ve encountered far too many reactive and supposed traditionalists in my years as a painter and teacher and in my experience insecurity is the driving force behind that kind of reflexive negativity.

  5. Has nothing to do with style, tradition, past or contemporary. Bad painting is just bad painting.

  6. Again, I have reviewed the work at least 4 times…read Mr. Kohler’s curatorial dissection each time and learned each time. I am thrilled with the brightness, the surrealness, a 2017 approach to painting. But most importantly, I feel as if I was blessed with an afternoon around a table in a grad school program somewhere…talking together about the works presented.

  7. Just want to say I enjoyed the review and echo that for me these are strong paintings. To create work that exists in the slippery space where we as viewers grasp and slide away from tangibility is not easy to do. It�s a feat to convey such sensory experience directly through a painting while bypassing any more-than-passing indication of recognizable imagery. And yet still retain a dimensionality and momentum.

    Any painter, no matter the bent, objective or not, can draw lessons and inspiration here – even if the work isn�t one�s personal taste. I�m a landscape painter working between objective and nonobjective; for me the vocabulary of mark and spatial construction, among other things, is fun to see.

  8. Jivan Lee…I visited your paintings…so glad I did.

  9. Tracey Harrington

    Fresh. Try it on sometime..relish the purity of it.

  10. Hey cool! I just saw this. Glad to hear you took a look.

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