Carla Markwart’s colorful pieces can be seen all around downtown Galesburg. She has painted a mural on the Box, near the Beanhive on Cherry and Simmons, in the entry to the Galesburg Commerce Center, and several of the trash cans scattered about downtown boast her handiwork. Carla is dedicated to the process of exploring and discovering with paint, taking the viewers on an exciting visual journey. I enjoyed writing this post about her art, and I hope you enjoy reading it!
Because color is so important to Carla’s work, I first asked her about the use of color in her pieces. She responded “I try not to plan my work too much. I like to choose colors that I don’t like or respond to...that makes the challenge. I like to make cool versions of warm colors, and warm versions of cool colors. I tend not to use much blue because blue is everywhere and everyone’s favorite color is blue. When I make these paintings, I don’t plan the colors ahead because that makes the process of painting so boring. The fun is choosing the colors and solving the problem of color placement. If the painter is bored, the viewer will be bored.” The idea of solving problems with color is one many painters use: examining the color relationships and how each one speaks to the other, solving and creating problems simultaneously to keep the painting open and engaging.
Carla’s abstract compositions are equally important to her work and rely heavily on circles, a recurring motif. I inquired as to whether or not these circles have any particular meaning to her, and why they are the dominant force in her compositions. “In my recent paintings, I am limiting myself to circles and straight lines. A circle is a perfect shape; it appears in nature everywhere you look; and it's easy to draw! I start by drawing a bunch of overlapping circles, then bisect them in arbitrary places with lines, then erase some lines and edges to make bigger, irregular shapes. Sometimes I make the overlapping shapes a close approximation of the 2 colors combined that are overlapping...but usually I don't because that is too predictable. Every inch of a painting has to be interesting and surprising- especially with the compositional limits I have set myself. It is kind of an all-over composition; no obvious figure-ground distinctions…” It seems that the driving force in choosing her compositions comes from exploring with the color, lines and shapes-- it’s about finding compositions rather than preconceiving them.
The phrase “figure-ground distinctions” refers to the flatness or depth of a painting. There is no real sense of deep space in Carla’s pieces, the shapes aren’t distinguishing themselves from one another as closer to us or further away, but rather all existing on the same plane. There is intense complexity in this painting strategy, because then the artist’s job (like Carla says) is to make the painting interesting to look at without using the tool of differentiation through space. Instead, the differentiation comes from scale, color, and composition.
Achieving these precise shapes and sharp edges is no easy feat. Carla uses a compass and straight-edge to draw the designs on paper or brick. “Then I just paint the shapes. I have a pretty steady hand and I don't have the patience to use tape. And I like the paintings to look like they were handmade.” I find it amazing that she doesn’t use tape to achieve the sharp edges. The handmade quality she’s interested in accomplishing is what is awarded to the viewer once they examine the work closely after being struck by the neatness of the shapes. I enjoy this interplay between the idea of precision and handmade, they seem to exist in different worlds with different goals, but Carla seeks to combine the two, and it works!
Next I asked specifically about her mural work, as well as its relationship to her smaller works on canvas and paper. “My studio paintings had been getting bigger and bigger, so murals were a natural next step. My simple geometric shapes are a good fit for huge walls...I guess I like extremes. Either tiny paintings or very large ones. The large ones envelop the viewer and the little ones draw the viewer in. I don't make many middle size paintings- maybe that is my next challenge!”
In terms of the relationship between her mural works and smaller pieces, she told me “The small paintings started as studies for murals, so they definitely have things to discuss with one another. I like to work on several at once. When one becomes frustrating, I can move on to another- different- frustration. The satisfaction comes from working through the problems I set for myself.” It is amazing that she is able to so fluidly switch from one scale to the other, seamlessly adjusting to the compositional challenges each size presents.
Carla sees her paintings as “joyous, a little bit humorous, perhaps a little too simple, but in their simplicity is a kind of restfulness.” I would agree, her murals certainly fit in the settings they are, becoming almost site specific in their ability to transform the space while still remaining true to its function. They bring a pop of color, brightness, and joy to the places they inhabit. I’m excited to see where she paints next!
If you’re interested in seeing more of Carla’s work, including her earlier work that departs from abstraction, click here to visit her website.
Thanks for reading! If you need a pick-me-up, stop by our shop to check out Carla’s smaller pieces, or take a walk downtown and look around--they’re sure to brighten your day!