Art Feature: Karen Nielsen25 Dec 2017, Posted by Art in
ART FEATURE: KAREN NIELSEN
What inspired you to become an artist?
I never set out to be a visual artist. It was more of an accident and came from my music. I moved to NYC in the 1980s. The downtown art and music scene was fully rooted and the stock market was booming. There was chaos and decadence everywhere. I don’t think anyone was fully conscious of the history that was happening. I personally was young and naive. One day I was modeling for Keith Haring and Andy Warhol showed up. In retrospect that was a pretty historical moment. Around that same time AIDS became an epidemic. It changed the way sex was viewed and experienced. Drugs, particularly cocaine and heroin, were party staples. Suddenly a lot of people in the art and music world started dying and NYC was pretty violent. There was all this super colorful, seemingly uplifting art and music being produced with tragedy and loss in between the lines. It was this multidimensionality of expression that got under my skin and emerged in my own art years later.
White Rabbit #1 by Karen Neilsen
You mention that your visual art comes from your music. Can you explain this process?
As a recording artist, I see songs in my head as I write and record them. The experience is kind of like a dream. All the different parts of my life and the world around me will visually swirl in my head when I’m writing. That time in the 80s is a major influence, but I think we are also experiencing a similarly explosive time and darkness now. I wanted to create visual representations of this layered mental imagery to go with the music, so I learned to design and edit video. I scour the web for video footage and use whatever captures me. I sort of just take what I find but use every image under the principle of fair use. I layer and manipulate it. Like much of the art of the 80s, I use really vibrant colors in juxtaposition to the dark subject matter. People have begun sending me footage to be used in my pieces which is really cool. A couple of years ago, I started to scrutinize each frame of my videos. I would take these frames and enhance them in Photoshop and my 2D visual art was born. So it all really starts with music. My music, my videos and art works are all expressions of this disturbing, complicated, and unbalanced world.
House of Love by Karen Nielsen
The art of the 1980s seems to be a big influence on you. What other influences do you have?
Oh, everything. Literature, music, art, news, the guy asleep on the subway. Once you start creating, everything is a source. It becomes a different way of living, of being in the world. Constantly aware. Also, today we are so inundated with social media and a million posts, but if you look hard enough and weed out the “noise”, you will find quality. You have to be your own curator and unplug regularly and just check out nature and silence. I also try to find off beat live art and performances. I am super lucky to live in NYC where there are a ton.
War #7 by Karen Nielsen
What keeps your artist practice going, e.g. the things you return to, and any advice you’d give nascent artists?
I think any artist, writer, musician will tell you that the worst thing is block. We all experience it. When it happens I will usually go to old work of mine and try to remember that raw sensation of what inspired me to create it in the first place. Doesn’t always work, but the best I can do when I have block is push through. I keep producing even if it’s not great. Creativity is like a muscle; you have to exercise and develop it. Eventually you break through the block. I can’t imagine my life without art and music, so I’ll do whatever I can to keep it alive in me. As far as advice, we are all different, but learn from your mistakes. If it doesn’t feel right or authentic, it probably isn’t. And never, never make or change your work because you want someone else to like it and you think that’s what they want. For me, art and music are really personal, and my best work is when is I have no outside judgment in the process, including my own. When I am so immersed that I hardly remember creating, that’s the greatest feeling ever!
Art: Karen Nielsen, @karennielsen13
In the artist’s words:
Karen Nielsen is a Brooklyn based multimedia, recording, visual, and performance artist. Her albums have charted in the top 30 on the CMJ college music charts. Her video, print and performance artworks, and installations have been seen at Pop International Galleries, Picture Farm, The Natural Wine Company Gallery, private collections, and this past July she had a featured piece at The Watermill Center Benefit. The breadth and depth of her music, dreamlike video installations, and performances have been likened to such artists as Bjork and Kate Bush.