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Ten Questions for Tania Karpowitz

"Listen," by Tania Karpowitz is currently on view in her solo exhibit "Headlands."

By Julia Chance

 

To fully appreciate the magnificent paintings in Tania Karpowitz’s solo exhibit Headlands, be prepared to spend time with them. First, step back to behold the sweeping grandeur of these large-scale works where expressive faces merge with boundless skies and landscapes. Then move in gradually to observe the gradations of color and the details of her brushstrokes up close.

In this body of work, Karpowitz breaches the irregular, jagged edges between person and place to explore the boundaries between individuals and their environment; where the self, land, and sky encounter one another, both joined and distinct.

The show’s title, says the artist, comes from the term used to describe coastal land that juts out into water. “The tension between the sea and the rock in a formation, a repeated sort of action that forms coastlines and bays, reminds me of what happens in my work where things  emerge. I wanted these heads to be imagined, to be large and universal without losing individual characteristics or feeling.”

Karpowitz earned her B.F.A. at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts and her M.F.A. at Indiana University, studying with painters Robert Barnes and Barry Gealt. She also studied for two years in Rome and garnered a Fulbright grant to study painting for two years in Madrid, experiences which were, she says, invaluable in her development as a painter. When she is not painting, she teaches classes and workshops year-round at The Art League.

Here, Karpowitz shares why art has been therapeutic for her, why people are her favorite subjects, and how she breaks the rules.

 

Describe your artistry.

I’m a painter who has for many years painted people. That is my most passionate and primary subject, and that’s evolved. When I was younger it was exclusively from observation, and I mostly painted people I knew—family and friends—because it was cost-effective. Then I got to a point where I needed to grow. I needed to feel freer to do things in my painting without being obligated to my friends and family. So, I ended up hiring models. At the same time, I started painting nudes because I wanted a universal subject. I didn’t want people wearing clothing that signified their position in society, I wanted it just to be men and women. That was very liberating for me.

 

“In Turn” by Tania Karpowitz: Oil

 

When did you know that you were an artist?

I prefer to call myself a painter. My mother is a sculptor, my dad is a scholar and they’re very aware of art, you know, in different ways. They knew I was a mark maker from the very beginning, and they encouraged it. When I was a little girl, I had a lot of very active dreams that were disturbing to me. My father would get up, pull out my art supplies, and help me work through them. I wouldn’t say I knew I was an artist back then, but that was the beginning of my identity—who I was and what I needed creatively.

 

What is your work process like?  

I work through my feelings with my artwork. I recommend it to everybody. It’s a healthy way to live because you get to process what’s going on. I’ve always worked with people, but I haven’t in the last few years. I get a lot of nourishment from people and their stories, struggles, and passion. Previously, I would do a lot of drawings to get to know my subject physically and personally, and then I would make paintings from observation. Now I just work from the drawings. It gives me structure and a sense of form. And then my color can just be itself. I’m using color more emotively and less naturalistically. There is a naturalism to it anyway—an illusionistic space. That’s been a great turning point in the last few years for me, and that work is what is primarily in Headlands.

 

“Father and Son” by Tania Karpowitz; Oil

 

What ideas drive your artwork?

The conflict between creating life and creating artifice, and making them work together in my life, has been a huge subject, I didn’t become a mother young, I was 35 and it was a very serious decision for me. Bringing life into this world is a huge job and takes a lot of energy. Was I prepared to be a creative person and a parent? I feel like I have succeeded at both because my husband, who is a writer, is a parent as much as I am. That allows us to have balance between our personal creative time and our parenting time.

 

Describe Headlands.

It is the group of paintings that I have done from drawings and where I use color in a way that is more natural to my personality as opposed to a convention. I’ve always enjoyed color and feel very emotionally driven by it. Not working from observation within the last few years has allowed me to make emotional choices.

 

“Hear Me” by Tania Karpowitz; Oil

 

Has the concept for your show changed any since you proposed it?

No, the concept has not changed, but the paintings have. It’s more of a mark-making change. In a way, I’m getting closer to my concept.

 

What has this pandemic period been like for you creatively?

It’s been very focused and grounding. Painting is clarifying for me, and it gives me an account of where I am.

 

What artists inspire you?

Degas, Lucian Freud, and Philip Guston are three remarkable painters who all have something in common: they grew artistically, and they didn’t relent. Guston was lambasted [when he went in another direction] during the height of his success, but that period became his most recognizable. I admire their work, but I really admire their willingness to put things on the line and be true to their artistic development and have the backbone to do it. That’s exciting to me.

 

“Eyescape” by Tania Karpowitz; Oil

 

What’s next for you?

Well, professionally I am having a dialogue with a gallery in New York, which I’m excited about. When I was younger, everyone was like, you’ve got to move to New York, do the rounds, and chit-chat to let them know who you are. I wasn’t willing to do that at the time. I felt like I needed to figure out who I am and what I’m doing. Now I feel much clearer about who I am as a painter, and I’m ready to do the rounds. Artistically, I’m not done working on these heads. It’s continuing to unfold and I’m enjoying it. The mark-making is changing and the possibilities are still fluid. That’s how I work. I listen to my paintings.

 

What is something that you have yet to achieve?

I don’t think I have an answer to that question. I like the struggle. It’s not a sense of achievement, it’s just a way of living.

 

Headlands is on view through November 7.  In January, Tania Karpowitz will be offering Basic Drawing, Gesture Drawing with a Model, and Foundation Painting at The Art League School in Alexandria. Registration opens November 8, online at www.theartleague.org/classes.

 

 

 

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