Karen Ann Myers is best known as the no-nonsense executive director of Redux Contemporary Art Center. But she’s also a prolific painter, printmaker, and mixed-media artist specializing in narrative realism. Her solo exhibition at Scoop Studios shows off her playful, colorful, and experimental side. Although the experiments aren’t always successful, her work effectively tests the boundaries of traditional gender roles, sex, desire, and intimacy.
Myers’ signature piece for this show is “Karen Apparel.” It’s appeared on postcards, in American Art Collector magazine, and in a prominent place at Scoop. In “Karen Apparel,” the artist, dressed in a baggy green T-shirt, sits on a green couch with a green wall behind her. While the real Myers cracks a smile from time to time, this self portrait is dour, deep in thought, slouched, looking like she’d rather be somewhere else. The portrait’s lack of depth, weight, or background shadow reinforce this idea — she’s like a cutout stuck onto the green room, rather than existing in it.
This technique is used in several of Myers’ oil paintings. While many artists strive for a three-dimensional effect, Myers does not create any sense of perspective. In the messily composed “Striped Dress,” a crumpled striped garment lies on a bare yellow-brown mattress. The clash of patterns and stripes and the lack of dimensionality make for an unsightly picture.
Myers is as interested in documenting her world as she is in imagining new ones. Sometimes the real and imagined meet in her work. “True Romance” is set in the childhood bedroom that she converted from her dad’s office. The office was full of taxidermy, represented by a pair of antlers mounted on the wall. The background is covered with the gaudy wallpaper that Myers always wanted but never had.
In “Pussy Cats,” she’s a little girl sitting with two beautiful young women. Myers is smiling, looking at them and seeing her potential future. Her nose is bleeding; it bled a lot when she was a child, possibly because of the dry Michigan heat. The eponymous cat is painted as a pale silhouette, its coat matching the color of one woman’s underwear. Another memory or fantasy? Only the artist knows.
Through paintings like these, Myers has begun to mythologize her memories, turning people in her life into icons and wallpaper patterns and karma sutra poses into motifs. Still in her mid-20s, she shows a confident grasp of symbolism and portraiture. But her yucky green and yellow palette and her flat images don’t do justice to her ideas.
Her cut-out style makes more sense when it’s juxtaposed with her mixed-media work. She gathers scraps of paper and stationery to make tiny, detailed collages. All of the paper is hand cut; her “Klimpt Study” (sic) series contains dozens of imperfect circles, creating Gustav Klimt-style images. One of the materials she uses is designer paper, reflecting a fascination with design that runs throughout her work. You can see it in the paintings of dresses, “Karen Apparel,” and the fashion-model inspirations for some of her subjects. The collages use more traditional composition and a less sickly color scheme, making them more accessible than some of her paintings.
Best of all are printworks like “Lithium #9,” an etching and aquatint that shows a naked woman nestling against a giant tattooed bicep. Even though the faces of her etched characters are simpler than her painted ones, they are the most expressive. They’re also affordable at $150 each.
All of the art in this show is inexpensive, including Myers’ large paintings. Although she’s still trying out different media and techniques — some more effective than others — this is a great time to pick up work by a young artist who isn’t afraid to paint her friends and feelings in lurid detail.