First Answer, 2007
oil on aluminum
66.5"h x 91"w
by Edwin Stirman
When I first walked into Karri Paul's studio, I knew that the images on the walls were paintings, but for some reason I had trouble placing exactly what the materials were. In 2007 she began making oil paintings on thin sheets of aluminum. The flexibility of the aluminum material allows her to cut, shape, and assemble her paintings as enormous collages. By painting on smaller sections nailed to the wall, she has developed dynamic, instinctive shapes that move far beyond the restrictions of traditional canvases. It is difficult to tell how deep the layers of paint are upon these surfaces, but many of these images are thin and expansive, oftentimes still allowing the metallic sheen of the aluminum surface to reflect light. This method of collaged pieces has created paintings that allow Paul to edit her arrangements in a raw, physical, and instinctual way.
Paul looks at landscapes as one source for her abstractions. Many of her current works share some of the qualities I am about to describe. Regardless of whether or not this was her intention, one image in particular struck me during her studio visit because it reminded me of how, on occasion, I deeply miss being immersed in the ocean. Remote Control (2007) brought me back to the experience of the vast and scary environment of coral reef snorkeling, an experience that is muffled, mysterious, and magical. The magic of water is its ability to mute sounds and create a distorted cacophony. I am still not sure what it is about these fractured compositions, but they remind me of my more intimate moments among reefs and ocean currents--those times when I feel most at peace, in a place that is symphonic and comforting.
Paul's reinterpretation of the natural world comes from a variety of sources, both direct and indirect. Her look at the media and television in her painting First Answer (2007) focuses on the culture of spectatorship. Unless you simply ignore all media it is impossible to not feel inundated by the spectatorship of magazines and periodicals as filters of the larger world around us. Filters like National Geographic remind and implore us to remember what the physical, natural world is like in both print and moving images. Even if you have never experienced the most remote of physical environments, the camera lens can bring it closer. Explorers and cameras go out into the field looking for places that still have resonance for creating a sense of wonder and amazement. I think one of the most powerful themes in Paul's work is her exploration and recreation of landscapes that evoke a sense of mystery and awe in response to the natural world.
Paul's instinctual response to the physical environment comes through in these works. As visual poetry, these pieces communicate the experience of the natural world and the role the media plays in remembering and appreciating the environment at hand. Paul addresses spaces ranging from canyons, springs, rivers, and other natural phenomenon. Her paintings engage the natural environment and then reassemble it physically and intuitively.