Carina Pearson [Interview]

Chattanooga, TN

That’s my whole aim in life - to pursue magic, that electric feeling, and to love people.


Carina Pearson is an abstract painter born in Cape Cod, MA, and currently working in Nashville, Tennessee.


MHM: What brought you to the Nashville Area?

Carina Pearson: When I was three my dad wanted to start pursuing photography and film, so we moved to Nashville. I remember a lot of characters around - makeup artists and musicians and writers and crew, milling around our house working on music videos or other projects. Dad would have me play angels or fairies in the videos, that kind of thing. I remember a lot of dresses and wings and people painting things on eyelids. Pretty magical. There was always something romantic or odd or bohemian about his videos.

MHM:  So you got introduced to to creativity at a very young age. Do you remember any specific projects you did as a kid that stick to you today?

Carina: My favorite thing I did with dad was the video for Sixpence None The Richer's "Angel Tread." He filmed me setting up all my porcelain dolls against this shattered window in a junkyard, I think I was around six? Maybe seven. We got a piano around that time too, and I started to write music. Music has always felt more natural to me, my native tongue so to speak. I wish it was the same with art! That's been more of a learning process and something I still feel like I'm hacking. But yea, somehow my parent's friends are all really talented writers, painters, musicians, photographers, etc. So I grew up sitting at these crowded dinners at our house with all of them talking, getting to absorb conversations and this really rich aesthetic. To this day they're the people whose opinion holds the most weight with me, and I'd say a lot of my tastes are direct lines from being raised in that atmosphere.

MHM:  At what point in your life did you start making visual art and were there influences behind that?

Carina: I did alot of doodling when I was little and have always been a bit in the clouds. So it felt natural to make up characters and draw them, like monsters, alot of bears, and a ton of abstract girls, that kindof thing. So far as committing more to visual art - I realized a couple years ago that I trust the immediacy of it over any other art form. Music is deep in my bones but it has to be deliberately engaged for somebody to experience it, whereas an image just announces its self. Like "hi I'm here!" Even if it ends up in a trash bin. Someone might find it one day and really love it. So yea, the fact that paintings are tangible artifacts, and have that permanence, that's really huge for me.

MHM:  I love that you're talking about finding your work in a trash can as an artifact for someone to almost decode. That decoding aspect is something I really enjoy about your work. Your paintings for me are like visual poems that I can read. Is that type of poetic decoding intentional?

Carina: I love that you use the phrase "visual poems." That's so beautiful. I mostly want someone to feel beauty and chaos and emotion and movement. The symbols I pick just happen to be things I'm drawn to, so they reoccur throughout. Like, the hands to me are somewhat about agency and power, but probably even more than that they're desire and longing. So I suppose it's like, I know what it means but I may be the only one. An open secret so to speak. What they mean to people is entirely their business.

MHM:  One of your pieces you mentioned was about domination and submission; it was a tiny girl in a dress being grabbed by a giant monstrous hand with lots of energetic mark making. Can you talk about this piece?

Carina: I spose it's a bit surprising because I've always felt fierce inside myself. I'm pretty intense so its been obnoxious to be patronized at times. It's like, "Oh your wide eyed and blonde" so people don't take your emotions seriously. That just boils my blood. So thats a theme in the work too... I guess collective female rage that our emotions at times are seen as invalid because we're "crazy." We're crazy women that aren't rational. A sentence beneath alot of women's art is probably just, see me - not as a woman, as a human. But yea, I've gotten a good response to that one which is funny because it took about five minutes. There's power in simplicity, but it's so hit or miss. I've done alot of quick paintings and most I throw away.

MHM:  Its nice when sometimes those lead up moments can be better than what you are trying to execute with long durational paintings. In those moments of care free creation you are brought to new and different directions. Now, I would like to learn more about your bridging from your daily profession as a therapist to an artist. You mentioned you did not have formal training in art, but you did in psychology. Can you talk about that that?

Carina: If there's anything I learned as a therapist it's that, while there are infinite varieties of people, we all have childhood wounds that fall into a few major themes. That legacy goes with us and forms the way we love, the way we see, our self-concept...everything. So this idea of the inner child is really huge to me and it naturally enters the pictures. I also just feel childlike inside that's a piece of it too. So yea...if I had to choose some overt meaning to the art it might be the remembrance of that child inside, whether that elicits tenderness or heartbreak or anger or admiration or whatever the truth is for the person who sees it.

MHM:  A lot of your new paintings are very large with big chunky brush stokes. I see that wild expressiveness in them, but they also seem to serve as a political statement where you act as a therapist teaching women to be large. Are there any books or philosophers' theories that use and apply in your art work?

Carina: I used to be really into self-help books. I loved reading them and absorbing them, and put so much work into testing other people's ideas that I got kinda depressed and anxious because I kept second guessing my own truths. That said, there's an incredible book on trauma called The Body Keeps The Score written by Bessel Van Der Kolk; reading that really helped me formulate my approach in working with people. I read a lot of theories and stuff, but as a painter and person, I really just value deep perception. If you use your own eyes to really look deeply, you'll know what you need to know, even more than an author, or your mom, or some speaker. There's a painting I did called I have my own eyes. There's some anger there I suppose, like "I can see for myself thank you very much." I guess because we're constantly told "this is the way," or "live like this." It's like, enough already. Leave people alone to form their own conclusions, the ones that resonate with their personhood.

MHM:  What is your favorite media to work with?

Carina: I've recently fallen in love with painting with ink, particularly with a long brush - it feels like a wand. Acrylic is nice too though, and oil has a certain romance to it. I suppose I don't mind what I use, I just like to grab things and try them.

MHM:  In your statement you say you tried to excite yourself. How do you do that?

Carina: That's my whole aim in life - to pursue magic, that electric feeling, and to love people. But I mostly excite myself through my imagination. I like to imagine beautiful scenes and connect with them, or dive deep into the feeling of certain music or films. I like to imagine the ocean a lot of times at dusk with a pink sky, or just skies in general. They excite me in a spiritual sense. They give me the feeling of being connected to the infinite. It feels like flying or a sensation of expansion. Those moments feel like I'm transcending the mundane, and that makes me want to paint.

MHM: What are your next steps as an artist?

Carina: I'm planning on going in a cleaner more elegant direction, but with the same sort of icons. It pleases my eye to have more fluidity and less chaos. I'm trying to streamline my colors too. Maybe I'll only use two or three colors. I'd also like to make and sell prints. Painting more women and faces has been really really appealing to me lately.

MHM:  When I was in your studio, you said one of your major influences was Basquiat. Would you say he is your favorite?

Carina: Yes. Absolutely. Just him as a person, human, or figure... I'm just fascinated with him. I've read everything I can get my hands on. His work looks fairly simple, but there's an intense magic to it. I don't know how he did it. I'm constantly trying to decipher it. It has a je ne sais quoi, this electric quality that you can't place. But you know, he didn't know what his paintings were either. It was likely out of his control.

Artist Statement: Someone recently said to me, "chasing your greatest excitements is channeling God." Painting for me is just another way to chase what makes me feel alive. I'm trying to excite myself and give whoever sees the painting a little jolt - a jolt of truth, a jolt of weird, or a jolt of delight... I adore children's art because their pictures are so violently alive. There's a pulse there. It's not simply innocence but something more, something otherworldly even. I like to use symbols in the pictures also, namely eyes, hands, keys, birds, and doors, which reference identity, agency, desire, and transportation.