What is art? This is a question Carolyn Mara has been challenging for the better part of two decades. Whether it’s with the lens of her camera or with the end of her mop, she’s explored what it means to create art while pushing the boundaries of abstract expressionism.
Mara first rose to prominence after winning the 2016 iPhone Photography Awards and pursued her photography and performance art through Instagram before she transitioned to TikTok to explore her emotions through a push and pull of movement and restraint. She is now creating her performance art through social media and has begun producing her own set of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) as a means of exploring everything the digital world has to offer modern artists — all while writing about her experiences in an attempt to help other artists do the same.
While some online audiences hate her work, many more seem to love what this transformative artist is doing. Through the new medium that social media provides, Mara is changing the way traditional wall art is produced. Though she is represented by one of Miami’s premier galleries, Pan American Art Projects, Mara has found a way to create work that she loves while helping the world appreciate the importance of the artistic genre that is only beginning to unfold.
I sat down with the artist earlier this month to find out more about her and her work:
Did you have creative influences growing up? How did you express your creativity and artistry when you were younger?
I grew up with parents who encouraged and fostered my creativity. My mother always had a camera in her hand and a darkroom in our attic where she developed and printed her own photographs; she also loved sitting at the pottery wheel throwing bowls, while my father played the piano, drums, guitar, and sang as a hobby. I spent my childhood doing performances, painting, making sculptures out of founding objects, and any other creative medium that was around me.
Can you describe the process of creating one of your pieces, from vision to finished product?
When a piece is commissioned, my client chooses the direction — round, infinity, square, lines, more closed off — and they share with me a few examples of their favorite pieces that I’ve painted. They also pick the color and I mix a custom color just for their piece so it’s truly one-of-a-kind. Then we pick a size together and depending on where it’s heading, I get the canvas stretched, and then work begins. I set everything up, pick my mop head, and paint. But I’m not just painting a piece of art, I’m also making a video recording so their personalized piece can be shared with the world.
The actual process of painting includes me photographing it from above after the initial painting and making decisions on what needs to be done to balance it out as I see fit. Often I photograph it three to four times during the painting session before I feel the piece is finished.
What themes do you pursue?
My mop paintings are large-scale, abstract pieces on canvas created from a series of throws and strokes with my mop. Stemming from an artistic practice grounded in understanding movement, restraint, intuition, and spontaneity — I am exploring my own emotional states in relation to the movements and decisions I make while creating each piece. I openly share my painting process with viewers, challenging many people’s notions of what is art.
As someone who has always used creative expression as a means to heal, this work — like everything else I have created over the last thirty-plus years — is about the experience more than anything else. The experience of walking into the studio and leaving my emotions on the canvas through the movements, restraint…
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I have had an array of responses from loving and wanting one for themselves to pure hatred of not just the work but of me. My work seems to push buttons, maybe it’s the use of a mop, or the abstract nature of the work, or the 15-second videos I share that lead person to think it all happens in 3 minutes. But I learned early that defending myself did little, instead, I remind myself that art is about the response between viewer and piece, and I am making people feel something. Some love, others hate, but as long as there is emotion, there is a success.
Do you have any classical training?
Yes, I do! I have a Master’s of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts, New York. That was where I really learned to hone my craft and developed my style of emotive conceptual photography.
What is one of your favorite pieces, and why?
One of my favorite pieces was a red and hot pink piece. It was the first time I decided to move into that color palette, I wanted the red to symbolize a fire burning inside and the poppy pink neon to add a fun flare. I loved how it turned out and it reminded me to push my bounds a bit more.
Where can interested parties find and purchase your work?