“Red Pink Slip”
In the heart of Harlem, there is a studio with a vast array of tools and color owned by painter, printmaker, and papermaker Karen J Revis. She employs a variety of techniques including monotypes, lithographs, etchings, linoleum cuts, collagraphs, and papermaking to create her passion-filled works of art. With not one but two brands; KAREN J REVIS Studio and REVISionary Prints; Karen explores a vast array of art forms from visually dynamic, textural abstract works to explorations of her life experience growing up in an all-Black community in the ’60s.
Michiel Perry: Can you describe your early influences that embolden your pursuit of art?
Karen J Revis: My father was an artist and my mom is a very creative person. Throughout my childhood, value was placed on visual and performing arts as well as the process of creating. Plays, movies and museums were regular outings. My mom was an avid and talented sewer; I loved going to fabric stores with her, choosing and combining colors and patterns. I watched how she worked, meticulously cutting out shapes and sewing them together until something beautiful came to be. I increasingly feel a connection between her creative process and my own. Like her, I love combining various elements to make something unique. She also had a flair for home decor and often decorated and redecorated our home. Like her sewing, there was a process of carefully combining colors, shapes and textures that would result in a beautiful visual experience. Watching her taught me how color and pattern can change everything. My dad’s goldsmithing also taught me a great appreciation for technique and materials in artistry. I was drawn to how technical his jewelry design was and to all of the tools and chemicals he had in his studio. Between my parents, I was greatly inspired by the colors, process, and technique involved in creating beautiful and meaningful art and environments.
Michiel: How do you motivate yourself to start your next piece?
Karen: I have two brands: Karen J Revis Studio and REVISionary Prints.
Karen J Revis Studio comprises my color field monotypes. The colors of nature excite and move me. I adore the unique color combinations found on flowers and butterflies as well as those in New York City skyline sunsets.
REVISionary Prints are figurative and often autobiographical. These works start with an image that speaks to me. I first think about which printmaking technique would best help me tell the story — linoleum cut, woodcut, litho, etc. Then I consider color. Each step is exciting in its own way.
Michiel: What is your favorite connection or experience you have had after finishing a piece of art?
Karen: My favorite connection was with a young woman whose father gifted her one of my Afro Pick prints. As a biracial woman, she was just beginning to explore her African American heritage. She was so happy and touched to receive a piece of art to which she could relate so personally.
Michiel: What do you want your art to communicate to your audience?
Karen: I am telling my story my way. I am telling the story of a middle-class African American woman growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. I am talking about my family, my heroes, and my community. I am speaking about the music I listened to, the fashion I wore, and the culture that shaped me. I hope that through my art I may connect with and inspire a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds who can personally identify with my images and experiences.
“Blue Face Red Circles”
Michiel: Can you describe feedback from one of your art pieces that made you see your art in a different way?
Karen: Once I come up with a concept, I start planning how to execute its realization. Then everything is technical. Often, my compositions evolve in development because of a technical restraint. At that point, my visual relationship changes and I only see the technical decisions that need to be made. It takes a while before I can separate the physical journey of making the piece from the visual story. My “Young Miss Nina” print was made by cutting the portrait into a grid, printing it, and then putting it back together. I did this because I had a pile of small squares of paper left over from another project that I wanted to use. After I printed each square, my intention was to cut the borders around each square. But after looking at the composition with each square surrounded by white, it felt interesting to me. So, I left the borders. Viewers often see the white borders as a window and the figure is either looking out or looking in. It’s hard to believe that I didn’t see that at the time I made it!
“Young Miss Nina”
Michiel: Do you have another passion that fuels your art?
Karen: Stories about interesting people and visual environments inspire me. Before streaming, I used to rent movies and documentaries from my local video store and watch a few during the week and three or four over the weekend. Now it’s easy to see such movies and I watch all the time. I have favorite directors and movies that I watch over and over because of the colors or the interiors and architecture. I also love to watch runway fashion shows. Artists like Eli Saab design creations that make me want to make art.
Michiel: Do you consider different cultural experiences or how your art is perceived over time when creating your art?
Karen: When I am making my Revisionary prints, I am in conversation with the Black community that I grew up in. I ask myself “Is this something so-and-so will like?” I hope that my community will relate and others outside of my community will be engaged.
“Bulletproof Vests for Toddler Boys”
Michiel: How has your evolving work experience influenced the many ways you express your art?
Karen: I’m very much interested in the process. Over the years I have attended residencies which offered dedicated time to learn and practice various proficiencies. Today, I have a wide vocabulary of skills that help me say what I want to say.
Michiel: Can you describe how the history of social justice has inspired your work?
Karen: I was born in the ’60s. I remember singing James Brown’s song “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” on the playground at school. I remember the marches and protests I participated in for social justice. I remember when Shirley Chisholm ran for president. I remember the Black Panthers. I remember when Martin Luther King was killed and the businesses that burned in my neighborhood as a result. I remember the Rainbow Coalition and Jesse Jackson’s PUSH operation and him leading the chant “I Am Somebody”. I know that our history is not being told truthfully or fully. Sadly, the injustices that inspired Black Lives Matter aren’t new. I want to keep the conversation going and add historical context that we can all learn from.
Michiel: What does it mean for you to work toward creating equity within the art industry?
Karen: The art world sees Eurocentric culture as “high” culture, and anything that’s not reflective of white culture is seen as “other”. I think it’s imperative that art institutions give more opportunities to people of color in addition to more programing for people of color. More diverse artists need to connect to more diverse communities. We should be allowed and encouraged to tell our story our way. That means there should be diversity in funding and careers in the arts. There should be more artists of color having shows and granted awards. There should be more people of color in cultural institutions as interns, staff and board members. Everyone loves art. Art can be used to help create a more just society.
Karen J Revis Mural created by Colossal Media.
Michiel: How does your development process differ when you are creating a print versus a mural?
Karen: My outdoor murals were created by Colossal Media from my existing prints. They were an outstanding company to work with and it was their amazing artists who hand-painted each mural from my work. I tweaked the image a tiny bit and we worked together on the coloring. However, it was Colossal’s incredible artists who translated my art into massive images.
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