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Exploring Oakland-based artist Carissa Potter's romantic vision of the world

Illustrative Chronicles: Carissa Potter Carlson reimagines the world as a loving place and inquires ideas of intimacy through her thoughtful art.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Aug 16, 2022

Carissa Potter is based in Oakland, California. She obtained her MFA in printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2010 and is the founder of Colpa Press as well as People I've Loved. Potter has collaborated with, among others, the ICA in Boston, BAM/PFA, SFMOMA, De Young Museum, CCA, The Body Shop, Anthropologie, The Color Factory, Urban Outfitters, The Hammer, and Pinterest. She has been an artist-in-residence at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley since 2010. Potter was an artist in residence at Facebook in 2016, and she is an artist-in-residence at Google alongside Leah Rosenberg in 2019. She has shown her work all across the world, most recently at Eleanor Harwood and Legion in San Francisco.

Illustration work by the artist | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Illustration work by the artist Image: Courtesy of the artist

1. Would you consider your work as 'illustrations' or 'art'? Is there a difference according to you?

Both? I think I am personally bad with boundaries and most are context-dependent. I think that when something is illustrating someone else’s idea, that might be more of an illustration? But even then, I am not sure. It is complicated by the fact that I don’t know if I believe in individual ideas. I make things that I think about. Conversations that I want to have. I am really big into tapping into the collective - what that is and how it functions is a mystery, and I am just along for the ride. The current image in my mind is something akin to when a school of fish moves elegantly together, or a herd of animals migrate. They don’t know what they are doing, or why, but just keep going. Because that is how time works.

Vivid illustration work on paper | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Vivid illustration work on paper Image: Courtesy of the artist

2. What is at the core of your expression? How do you aspire for your work to be experienced and interpreted?

I think, for me at the core, it is a few contradictory things; being unique and part of something, finding moments of joy and beauty in deep despair. I think I am trying to get comfortable with what is. I want people to feel like, “oh, shit, we are all human.” In an ideal world, perhaps I would want people to feel like the things that they are maybe suppressing about themselves are ok. Like that judgment is a human construct. Now, I am not saying that we should hurt other people or things or plants, but just to listen without conclusion. Make space in the middle of our thoughts and actions. It is endlessly fascinating what makes us who we are. We are such elegant creatures.

Installation view of the quilts at The Contemporary Jewish Museum | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Installation view of the quilts at The Contemporary Jewish Museum Image: Impart Photography; Courtesy of The Contemporary Jewish Museum

3. Please tell us about your creative journey – how has your style evolved over the years? What/who are your biggest influences?

Unfortunately, I think I am making the same work over and over since I can remember. I have sketchbooks to prove it. Basically, I like the same things as I liked in middle school: Oasis, Joan Didion, Miranda July, Sophie Calle, and Mattisse. I think the progression is perhaps that I have become more practised at rendering? Coupled with age, I still obsess in the same way, just over different things. Like I still am interested in why people fall in love with the people they do, but in a different way now since I have been with the same person for like a billion years. When I was younger, perhaps I was more radical, more steadfast in my convictions, but as I age, things seem to get increasingly complicated. And hard to define. But I still want to try.

Quilts for comfort, Collaboration with Leah Rosenberg quilts donated by Coyuchi for CJM | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Quilts for comfort, Collaboration with Leah Rosenberg quilts donated by Coyuchi for CJM Image: Impart Photography ; Courtesy of The Contemporary Jewish Museum

4. A body of work you created that you are particularly proud of? Please share details of how you conceived of it.

This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. I think all of my life, I feel like people will relate to this, it has been hard to be proud or like anything you do. Like a deep uncertainty and insecurity, mixed with a cultural obligation to be humble. What I mean by this is that I don’t know even if I did like something if I would have let myself admit it. Even to myself. Only very recently, I started to notice, that I am proud of some things (these moments are brief and rare). I am pretty proud of this mural I just finished. I am also pretty proud that I have been able to sustain a business for 12 years. And a marriage. And I have a kid - who has CF. And actually, now that I am writing this. I don’t know if I knew what pride felt like until becoming a mother. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am slowly becoming comfortable with some of the parts of my life having worth.

Carissa Potter speaks about her visual art practice Video: Kala Art Institute

5. An upcoming project that excites you… or an unrealised project close to you.

I want a break. I want to write a book, but then again, I feel like I have nothing to say. I want a second child (this is complicated, but what family isn't?). I want the world to have hope again. I like making things. I want to feel stable again. Or at least get comfortable with the uncertainty enough to enjoy being alive.

Portrait of the artist | Illustrative Chronicles | STIRworld
Portrait of the artist Image: Misha Velasquez

Click here to read more about Illustrative Chronicles, a collection of STIR articles that examine illustration as a discipline for narrating stories of the contemporary urban.

(Research Support by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))

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