York & Friends Fine Art | December
WORDS Megan Kelley
Relentlessly curious, Monique Carr is driven by exploration—the physical kind, as she travels the globe and her own Tennessee landscape to experience the elements, but also the artistic kind, her marks influenced by the aesthetics of each place. “Going to countries is so different,” she says. “All the colors and the little things, the little experiences, food and music . . . you come back with all these differences absorbed. What you would take for granted, you see with new eyes.” The work responds in unexpected ways, often in the influence of color choices but also in material and technique.
Watercolor brushes from China become juicy new textures when infused with acrylics, or the heaviness of Tennessee air reflects in the drips that pour through a painted reflection. Influence intertwines with Carr’s own strong voice, translated into a fusion of global experience feeding deeply personal responses to the local landscapes of her Tennessee home.
The works always feel centered, however. Her own curative approach to painting the outdoors lends clarity to her visual voice as she works through multiple images. Mixing her colors before she goes out to paint allows Carr to focus on the environment and the experience of plein-air, while still preserving her own aesthetic and unique vision.
“I keep a simple palette,” Carr explains. “I want to explore these colors, not spend my time outdoors mixing.” The choice gives a cohesiveness to the images: In their language of pre-determined palettes, each painting expresses a visual dialect that reflects the identity of that particular region and allows Carr to give intention to the nuances of each individual landscape.
With their language secure, Carr can focus solely on the visual character of the work. Her underpaintings are often done in transparent acrylics, the swift-drying sealant allowing the light of the canvas to rise, luminescent, through the final images, preserving fickle moments of passing light and specific feelings that initially caught her breath. As these prepared surfaces dry, Carr prepares for her oil-based work, studying the images and their surrounding landscapes to identify places to preserve darks, carve into paints, and allow areas of underpainting to accent through the more opaque oil. “I look around me; I memorize the most important percent, and then I give in to the painting and forget the rest.”
By streamlining her process, Carr can take time to pause along the way, listening to the sensory voices of each place and incorporating them into her chorus. “When I paint outdoors, the water, the winds, the birds, the sounds all increase my energy.” The key, she says, is to step outside of her own expectations and step fully into the environment, opening herself to the unique aspects of each place and the needs of the painting. “I close my eyes and relax. Painting can be stressful, but listening makes me simplify—in my feeling, in my work.”
Returning into painting, Carr is focused, refreshed, clear. The movements happen quickly and beautifully. “I literally dance with the work through the brush. There is a fine line between the rhythm of sound and the rhythm of painting; they are intertwined. Listening makes the work more expressive.”
The works are resolved as much as possible on site, their energy preserved in the freshness of painting in the moment. Any later return is only to visit for a few minutes, a footnote of process to simplify and edit out extraneous elements. “When I work from a scene, I ask myself what attracted me, why did I want to paint that; why did I like it? I try to bring that into focus, to explore that. But I try to leave as many places as possible”—the drips and marks that occur naturally during the painting, the evidence of the elements of the outdoors and its effect on her decisions—“to let them be as they are.”
As final punctuation—whether added at the finale or in the middle of joy—Carr confesses that each painting holds a tiny exclamation mark: “It is my trademark!” Just as she slows down in the process of painting—honoring the painting process with the attention of time and focus—the playfulness of finding a solitary mark invites audiences to slow down also and reenter that space with her. “To find it, they really have to look. All the while, they are looking at this landscape and getting to know the land more.”
New work by Monique Carr is on view during the month of December at York & Friends Fine Art, located at 107 Harding Place, Nashville, Tennessee, open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, please visit www.yorkandfriends.com.