A woman’s side profile emerges before a hazy, urbane background. A striking, svelte figure against a faded, neutral-toned backdrop, the eye follows the figure’s movement and questions ensue. Carly Silverman constructs mysterious narratives with cinematic glances toward her female figures. Silverman’s quixotic figures, shrouded in pastel tones, indicate how the artist reclaims the gaze and presents feminine beauty from a woman’s perspective.
We chatted with Silverman on the occasion of her exhibit, “Static Motion”, on view at Bee in the Lion in New York’s Flatiron district through December 14th, 2018. We were excited to learn more about how she approaches her practice, her nuanced color palette and the ethereal beauty that her paintings possess.
ANTE. Thanks for catching up with us, Carly! Excited to hear more about your practice. How did you start working with this subject matter?
Silverman. I began focusing on distorted self-portraits in undergraduate school, which eventually led to painting multiple figures in graduate school. I designed and arranged my friends as models in interior environments, depicting in ordinary moments such as one looking at her cell phone or another fixing her hair. I also paid attention to their clothing, often choosing decorative, colorful vintage dresses. When I moved to NYC in 2011 after graduate school, my focus on multiple figures in interior environments shifted to painting female figures I saw on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. A woman dashing off in heels with a patterned skirt or checking her cell phone in a colorful shirt became new moments I wanted to paint.
My techniques in painting also evolved with this imagery to convey a fast pace movement of time and a hazy, dreamlike environment that my figures move through. Through building up my surfaces in multiple thin layers and wiping the paint away as much as I put it down, the painting becomes constructed of abstract shapes within a representational image.
ANTE. How do fashion and figure interrelate in your work? Is one more important than the other?
Silverman. Fashion and the figure have an equal role for me in each painting I make. They work together and play off of each other. Fashion affects the way the body is seen and the body affects the way fashion is seen. I don’t see them as separate components when I am working on a painting. A gesture of a figure influences how the clothing sits on her. The clothing a figure is wearing works to tell the figure’s story.
ANTE. Tell us more about your background in painting and your practice has evolved.
Silverman. I attended an arts magnet high school, Carver Center for Arts and Technology, where I started painting. Oil painting captured my attention more than any other medium, particularly painting live models. After high school I attended The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). I was working on distorted self-portraits in interior environments and was interested in light, patterns, perspective, and narrative. I applied my paint with a palette knife. My colors were more somber compared to the vividness of my colors today.
After MICA I took some time off before graduate school to live in NYC and experience living life as an artist for a few years. I then went to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) for my MFA. I continued to paint distorted self-portraits in interiors with a palette knife, which led to painting multiple figures in interiors. Through these works, I combined imagery from multiple pictures into one painting. My use of a palette knife changed to brushes, and these figures were instead placed outside in landscapes and cityscapes. My paint application has become softer, and although my focus on the figure has remained constant, my techniques used have changed the overall feeling and mood of the work.
ANTE. Your work has a classic appeal/timeless, not rooted in contemporary trends. What attracts you to figurative, representational painting?
Silverman. What attracts me to figurative, representational painting is the ability to take a seemingly ordinary moment of a woman on the street onto the canvas and create a whole new world for them and the viewer. Through my use of abstraction within representation, I am able to capture subjects during this fleeting moment in time. I am able to add painterly strokes, and remove them to create a hazy dreamlike environment for my figures. These figures then have a moment of self-awareness in an environment that threatens to devour them.
ANTE. How did you arrive at your current color palette?
Silverman. My color pallet has evolved through the changes of my imagery from figures in interior environments to exterior landscapes. Through my changes of subject matter, colors have become more vivid and brighter to represent a more lighthearted subject matter.