Our Studio Sunday interview this week highlights the work of photographer Karen Navarro. Learn more about what inspires her colorful, figurative images, her creative process, and the motto that keeps her going in tough times! You can also view two of Karen’s works in ‘Faces & Figures’, a group exhibition presented by PxP Contemporary.
With a background in fashion design, Argentina-born artist, Karen Navarro, works with a highly stylized aesthetic in a diverse array of mediums that includes photography, collage, and sculpture. Her constructed portraits, as she describes it herself, are known for the use of color theory, surreal scenes and minimalist details. Navarro’s work expresses self-referential questions that connect in a much larger scale to ideas of construction of identity, societal expectations and the understanding of the being; prompting a discourse about the subconscious will to comply with the contemporary societies' canons when these are in fact misleading. Similarly, Navarro explores in her work femininity as a cultural construct.
Navarro has lived in Houston since 2014 where she completed the certificate program in photography at the Houston Center for Photography. In 2018, Navarro was awarded a scholarship at the Glassell School of Art | The Museum of Fine Art Houston where she studied analog photography. Most recently, she received the Artadia fellowship in 2019.
Navarro's work has been exhibited in the US and abroad. Her most recent shows include ones at the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin, TX (2019), Presa House Gallery in San Antonio, TX (2019), Melkweg in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2019), Museo de la Reconquista in Tigre, Argentina (2018), The Union in Houston, TX (2018), and Houston Center for Photography in Houston, TX (2018).
Driven by an insatiable curiosity about understanding the self and the resulting human behaviors shaped by social norms. Furthermore, understanding the role of social norms in the construction of personal and social identity, my work seeks answers and proposes questions that may not yet have a predetermined answer.
Through the use of color theory, surreal scenes and minimalist details, the constructed portraits, as I like to call them, recreate a character that usually doesn’t have an identity. My photo process blurs those lines of identity by disguising, hiding and covering the faces. In the performative photographs, often times, the characters are isolated in a serene environment. I believe photography allows me the expression of self-referential questions. By expressing personal worries, my work appeals to connect these ideas to a much larger scale of ideas of construction of identity, societal expectations and the understanding of the being; prompting a discourse about the subconscious will to comply with the contemporary societies' canons when these are in fact misleading.
When did you first become interested in art?
I first became interested in art while doing a photography assignment for an art class in high school. But I would say that I grew up surrounded by an artistic environment, my grandmother was a dressmaker and my grandfather, who I didn't get the chance to meet, liked to draw. I remember spending my childhood days with my grandmother in her atelier. And, I think that was what led me to study fashion design and then photography. My fashion design training had a strong art program. I gained a general overview of art and history but it wasn't until I came to Houston that I started to get more interested in the contemporary art world and the art scene.
Tell us about what inspires you creatively.
My inspiration comes from different sources. Color, lighting and shadow from the everyday can inspire a mood. I usually use these moods to approach new artwork and link it to philosophical ideas, self-referential questions, or something else in what I believe in and I want to share. Looking at artwork and specially from the Surrealist, Renaissance and Cubist periods brings a lot of inspiration. I'm interested in the concept of identity so I explore it in many different ways. Photography for me is about creating conversations, making relevant a topic that may be only relevant for me. It's about inviting people to question along with me. My work doesn't offer answers because I don't believe in absolute truths. And, in the in-between of this dichotomy of not believing in absolute truths and having an opinion at the same time is where I position myself every time I approach a new body of work. Inviting you, seducing you through a highly stylized image to reflect on topics that may challenge our social notions.
What is your process like?
Usually, everything starts on the sketchbook, then I pay a visit to the warehouse to buy some painting to paint the backdrop wall. After that I go to the thrift store to get some clothing and some props to prepare for the photo shoot. In my performative photographs I create characters, for this reason I meticulously arrange the elements in the scene. Although, while in the photo shoots I allow myself to get creative and try new things, I don't stick entirely to the sketchbook.
Since my work is evolving and I am working on new mediums, like collages and soon sculpture, my process changes according to the work I am doing. For example in my last series of collages "El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos" I added laser-cutting, 3-D printing, and embossing.
Describe your current studio space. What is most important about it or one thing that you can’t live without in your work area?
I like to call my studio ‘big white box’. I love the high ceilings and how airy it is. Natural lighting is something I can't live without. My studio has small window that faces the top of a tree. I enjoy looking at the the wind blowing the tree with the sky on the background. During the mornings the sunlight is very beautiful. For me, my studio is my sacred temple, everything has to be in order and be very minimal for me to be able to concentrate.
What is one piece of advice that has stuck with you or a quote that you think is especially meaningful?
My motto is from a Spanish saying, Persevera y triufarás, which translated literally into the English language means Persevere and you will Triumph. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.
Are there any exciting exhibitions, projects, or collaborations going on this year that you’re currently working on or will be soon?
Yes! There are two things I‘m very excited to share. I'm currently working on some sculptures that explore the notion of body and beauty. It’s an extension of my body of work “Soft Objects”. I’m currently at the first stage, but am very excited about it!
I’m also organizing and co-curating a show called “Alternate Pathways”. The show celebrates Houston’s cultural diversity and has received a grant from the city. The show opens on October 19th 6-8 PM at 2315 Union St, Houston, TX 77007.