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Interview with artist Carol Setterlund

"Puccini's Paralysis", mixed media on panel, 42" x 36"

Carol Setterlund is a painter and sculptor who I got to know on Google Plus. Her work in both media is striking, unified by a preoccupation with texture and material as the embodiment of thought. Renowned art historian Donald Kuspit put it best, when he said of Carol's work: "She is a primitivist with a sophisticated awareness of modernism. The strength of her figures is tempered by the intimacy of their texture, making them all the more dramatically expressive and 'touching.' They are symbolic abstractions that seem profoundly realistic."

Philip: You describe yourself as a self-taught artist. How did you find your way to becoming a sustained practitioner of art?

Carol: Mostly obsession. Persistence. Drive. Along the way I’ve had a certain amount of ambition, which has helped sustain. I am having to come to terms with the ambition these years. But the obsession continues. I think the need for discovery is a prime motivating urge. Another motivating factor is the need to communicate. Once in a while there is a satisfaction that comes in finding something unknown to me and in sharing what I hope might be even a tiny bit unique with some part of the world outside myself.

"Ajax the Great," wood/bolts/acrylics, 84" x 26" x 19"

Philip: You are a painter and also a sculptor. What makes you go into your studio and decide to make one or the other?

Carol: I think the two activities come from different places and two different needs and the decision is not always entirely conscious. What pulls is what is most elusive to me at the time. I think much of my practice of sculpture attempts to connect in some non-mystical way with our ancestors. With the sculpture I feel I’m moving more outward and also back to my unsophisticated roots. The painting is more introverted, more trying to connect to myself and also to something more current. In both painting and sculpture I’m also looking for what might be universal.

There’s another odd physical factor that enters into the decision. If there’s a sense of congestion in my chest or gut, I’m probably heading for the sculpture studio. If the congestion is in my head, I’m probably going to find myself staring at panels and jars of paint.

"Season of Repair," mixed media on panel, 30" x 24"

Philip: I see different influences in both your 2-d and 3-d work, though clearly you also have your own visual language. How aware are you of this question of influence, and how do you work with it or against it?

Carol: I’m not very aware of influences usually. The ‘question’ of influence is another thing entirely. I’m afraid of influences. I’m afraid the discovery I’m after, that short moment of wonder and awe, will really belong to someone else. Still, I’m certain that I have been influenced in sculpture by tribal sculpture, by Baselitz, his sculpture, not his painting, and by German Expressionists. I love Giacometti, though I don’t recognize his influence on my work. Another sculptor said to me once that he thought of Giacometti when he saw my work, but Giacometti’s drawings rather than his sculpture. I was pleased, and though it had not occurred to me before, I understood what he was saying.

My influences in painting are probably all over the place, though, at this point, I don’t recognize them. Self-defense, I suppose. I can be inspired by something perfectly done and perfectly presented. But I suspect the influence with the painting is more from movements, some kind of cross between minimalism and expressionism.

Philip: The titles of your paintings appear to be based on associations suggested by the rhythm of the picture, while the titles of your sculptures often refer to classical mythology. What strikes you about your own process both of making the work, and naming the work?

Carol: I said this above, but again, the sculpture process is more bodily prompted and, I think because it’s sculpture, so received by the viewer. The sculptures are about us and our ancestral heritage. As I have said in my artist statement on my website, I’m looking for an archetypal representation of humanness, which hopefully answers your question about the sculpture names. I don’t usually know where the names on the paintings come from, but, yes, I think you’re right that they are often suggested by the rhythm of the picture. Some of the paintings are more connected to the sculptures than others and some of these paintings have names that imply a connection to the past. These particular paintings, I feel, in retrospect, might be the language of the sculptures if they could talk. With all the names I strongly don’t want to give any specific clues or pin the works down to single interpretations. I’d like my work open to whatever response it might illicit no matter what it is to me. And often I can’t and don’t want to pin down my own response.

"Hero", wood/bolts/acrylics, 66" x 14" x 14"

Philip: As a user and sharer on Google Plus, what can you say about the role social media play for you as an artist, either personally or professionally?

Carol: Making art is lonely. Shows only last a certain amount of time. And money from sales is instantly gone. It’s great to be able to share what you do with people who would never otherwise see it. And it’s just as great to see the work of people you didn’t even know existed. I don’t know that there has been much, if any, professional gain but there is quite a large amount of satisfaction

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  1. Thanks to you both for the introduction to the work here. I would love to see these pieces for real.


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