Interview by Vanessa Alva
“Painting is my writing. Painting is my therapy. When I paint I go with the flow. Most of the time the finished painting is a reflection of my hardships and pain, but I always say that art can turn a negative emotion into a positive one, and if other people are enjoying my art that’s what matters. I live by being real and I will not pretend that everything is perfect when it’s not”.
“I feel that my art demands attention and deserves to be passionate.” – Carissa Louise Martin
As you look at Carissa’s art you can see that it speaks loud and clear. Though some might say that it’s a bit rebellious and on the dark side, as I spoke with Carissa at a bookstore in Echo Park, I could sense that she had an upbeat spirit about her as she sat wearing a colorful summer dress that matched her ginger hair and olive skin. A beach girl by heart. Her mother was an accountant and her father was a Baptist minister, which led her to attend church throughout her entire youth. Being raised this way, she lived a sheltered life, but that’s the price to pay for being a prime example of a minister’s daughter. Eventually she found her path and decided to think outside the box, and doing so meant to endeavor in unfamiliar territory. It took a while for her family to get on board with her being an artist, but eventually they would see what she loved to do. Paint.
Vanessa Alva: Where did you grow up?
Carissa Louise Martin: I was born in Oklahoma and when I was three I moved to Montana, but all my family lives in Texas now. I had great memories as a kid at my grandparent’s house. They had a farm with cows, horses, goats, and chickens. That’s what inspired me to draw animals at that age.
VA: When did you first start drawing / painting?
CLM: Well I didn’t want to be an artist at first. Growing up I kept journals and I loved to write more than anything else. I wrote up into my 20’s in my journals. Writing at the time was my art and the way I could release all the anxiety and emotions that I was feeling. Writing held such a special place in my heart that I would think, if my house were to burn down, my journals would be the first things I would grab. I actually got in trouble for one of my first drawings in 5th grade. I remember it clearly. I used to draw naked people with pubic hair for the women and the teacher told my dad. It was an embarrassing experience for me, instead of my mom coming to talk to me about it my dad did. Just one of the twisted childhood memories I have. Then as I grew up and I was living in San Diego, I attended college there to start my classes in painting. That’s where I first met Doug Durant, my painting instructor. I can remember him clear as day. He was a little guy, who wore a cowboy hat and he pointed me out. He said, “You need to paint.”
VA: Was your family supportive of your art having grown up in the church environment?
CLM: It took a long time for my family to get on board with my art. I’m the black sheep of the family especially being my dad’s daughter and having a brother who’s a lawyer but they weren’t totally against it. My parents bought me painting supplies and my dad taught me how to draw a horses jaw and my mom has been to my shows. My grandparents were always supportive of my art. I think they just wanted me to get a education and I wanted a job that I would have to use my brains. Not one that exploits my looks. My family is big on academics and since an education was so important to them and to me, I started taking oil painting classes at Pasadena College.
VA: Now that you live in LA, what do you think about the scene out here?
CLM: You have to be tough to break through the superficial parts of the LA scene. I have shown at a few galleries and art shows like, The Hive, Chocolate & Art, and at the Cigar & Art Gallery in downtown LA. I had my exhibit at Sev Ven gallery which is located in Huntington Beach. I have to say though, besides exhibiting my work, I love to live paint even more. Live painting makes me feel like I am being helpful and feel connected with people who come out to the shows. I want to make art that is emotionally expressive and passionate. Art that demands attention. When I live paint it sometimes makes me feel passionate in that way. That’s why when I met the Heart of Art gallery girls this year, I loved the girls Ms.3 and WearetheCam and their passion, they also give the best hugs in the world.
VA: How did you meet the girls of Heart of Art?
CLM: I saw one of their post on Facebook. They were hosting a event one weekend and I decided to show up. Once I walked in the first thing I thought was this is more than an art gallery, they are doing so much more than just selling art and I knew this place was a gem. I don’t come from a very affectionate family so when I met the girls they showed me so much love. I learned it was a gallery for woman and the LGBT community and I decided I wanted in. I have a close connection to the LGBT community because my best friend is gay. We are very close and I want to introduce her to HOA, she would really fall in love with the gallery and the girls. I gave HOA a piece called, “Disconnected Connectivity.” It is an oil painting on found wood.
VA: For the most part, are your paintings are from recycled material?
CLM: Most of my pieces are made of found material. If that means I find something on the side of the street where I can incorporate in my paintings, then yes I use it. My self- portrait has roses glued down towards the bottom of the canvas. I want to get something used and turn it into something beautiful.
VA: One of the art pieces that I found compelling for myself, is “Popularity Contest.” What does this art piece represent for you? I noticed that all of the bodies were bone skinny. I want to know the reasoning behind the bone skinny girls?
CLM: If you look, the body on top is the most skinny and the one on the bottom is thicker, she has thicker thighs then the others. For a while, I was meeting jacked up women, girls that only cared about their vanity and I noticed I was surrounded by jealous women, or women hating on women, and so I created a few pieces that would show how women can destroy one another, and what the outcome could be from hate and jealousy. Also, I was making fun of vanity. I like to be pretty but some girls are so obsessed.
VA: What motivates you?
CLM: I want to create a dialogue with my art. I want to cause people to ask questions about my paintings. I am anti-theme and anti-egos. I think artists with huge egos are insecure. Fuck Egos! I am modest about my art because I let it speak for itself. My art is an extension of me and I do what I feel. After that I leave it up to others to judge it for itself. If they want to criticize it then fine. It doesn’t hurt my ego but it challenges me to paint more. If it’s pain I feel, then I paint with that emotion. I had a family who made me analyze myself a lot, so my art is my therapy and it’s the best way to deal with all this pain, but my real motivation and I guess my ultimate goal in the future would be to teach others how to paint. If more people tried to paint they could. I always meet people who say, “I wish I could paint.” I always ask, “Have you tried?” Painting is about knowing your tools and then once you have the right tools then that’s when you can learn to paint. I want to establish myself in the art community so that people want to be taught by me and allow themselves to trust me as a teacher.
VA: Name some of the artist/ people who influence you?
CLM: Lori Early, is one of my favorites. She is a surrealist artist who paints portraits of women. I like how she stretches out the neck of the woman in her paintings and I am pretty sure she has met most of the women she’s painted. Greg Craola Simkins is someone who comes to mind when I think of an inspirational artist and as for the classics, I like Frida Kahlo but the most influential person in my life right now is my fifteen year old daughter. She is a ginger just like me. I give her the affection I didn’t get as a kid and because she has seizures, I stay home with her a lot of the time but this disorder, it doesn’t hold her back. She’s very motivated for a fifteen year old and she gives me so much drive. She’s brilliant and my best critic. She’s also an artist but her thing is making jewelry. She’s very business oriented and I think she should be my agent. She’s different in her own ways but has a lot of me in her too. Her cat is her best friend just like my two rabbits are my best friends and she is showing her true colors as she becomes more and more independent. I’m proud of her and want to teach her that it’s possible to be a successful women and that she can rely on making her own life and money.
VA: Did the church have an positive or negative effect on you?
CLM: I like the fact that I was raised in the church. As a kid I had to go through bible drills, and had to memorize the bible. We had contests with the other kids to see who could recite bible verses the fastest. I like that I can have an intelligent conversation with someone about the bible. Religion is and has been a big part of my life. I don’t always agree with the religious views, I know people in the church that are anti gay. People who would never step foot in a place like Heart of Art. This is what I have to say to that with all respect, “Fuck them, that’s their loss. I don’t regret my crazy, weird childhood and I didn’t always fit in but I was blessed to have this talent and be able to paint.”
VA: Any new paintings that you are currently working on?
CLM: I am infamous for starting paintings and not finishing them. Then I come back and finish it, they are paintings that are emotionally waiting. I am so busy with my daughter, you know how crazy life can be but I am working on a piece “Always Open Hearted,” and so yeah, I’m excited for new and beautiful things to come.
My name is Carissa Louise Martin, I was raised in Southern California and I am currently creating primarily mixed media artwork combined with oil paint. I use found materials to build up an interesting surface, then take the necessary steps to prepare it to begin painting my idea, which may be preconceived or spontaneous. I am inspired by the relationships between individuals and ideals, as well as the lack thereof. The disconnections within our society are what keeps me home painting and the delicate balance of relationships is what motivates me. Much of my work represents a sense of longing or struggle, but also strength and endurance. My ability to paint my own emotions that are a result of various situations tranforms into the desire to share and successfully communicate that to the viewer. It is often hard to find and recognize the power in what some might view as weakness, and I aim to portray those conflicting and contradicting ideas simultaneously through the combination of beauty and turmoil. Humanity seeks understanding, and my work is the display of my journey through the attempts to comprehend, as well as conquer, the many aspects of my experiences.