Caitlin Karolczak is a portrait painter with an old world studio in Northeast’s Grain Belt Bottling House. Not only is Karolczak’s study of human body and anatomy in her content unique and exceptional, but so is her use of antique paints and materials. When she’s not staying busy painting she’s an antique dealer and a co-owner of Spinario Design & Gallery.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston
Secrets: Where are you from?
Caitlin: I’m from the Iron Range — Aurora, MN.
Secrets: When did you come to Minneapolis?
Caitlin: Where I grew up there wasn’t a lot of opportunities. I was lucky enough to take advantage of Minnesota’s post secondary enrollment program, so I was able to go to college when I was 16. The first year I went to a community college and when I was a sophomore at 17 I went to the U of M and took my first art class there. I’ve been living in Minneapolis for almost 10 years now.
Secrets: Tell me about your recent work.
Caitlin: Mostly I’ve been working with a recurring medical theme. I’ve collected vintage photographs for about a decade now, most are from the 19th Century. The majority are medical in subject matter, but when compared to modern medical photography they look more like portraits. I find them really intriguing for that reason. I often work from these photos and recently completed a couple of large paintings of inter-sex individuals or “hermaphrodites” which, is not such a p.c. term anymore but, its interesting because its such a classical term and subject matter. It is however a subject matter that can often make people uncomfortable. I’m also working on some male nudes. Interestingly enough the photos I’m working from are from the same series as the medical photos of hermaphrodites. They depict “feminine” boys and men, who to me look normal, but in the 1800s were deemed as having a medical problem probably because of their sexuality. I’m just going to continue with this medical theme and see where it goes.
Secrets: There seemed to be some child themes in some of your older work can you tell me more about what brought that on?
Caitlin: I think children are just kind of a more attractive subject matter and they tend to be in a lot more of these vintage memorial type photographs that I collect and work from. So, that’s probably where that comes from, although I think my work is a little youth obsessed. Painting old people isn’t as fun for the time being….
Secrets: If you could travel anywhere and time where would you go?
Caitlin: Well, I’ve been watching a lot of English dramas where the wealthy gentry live in a giant manor house with servants and get to have tea time. So, that would be kind of nice to just be well off and not worry about anything.
Secrets: What is the most important thing to you about the process?
Caitlin: Experimenting and not being too precious with anything. Even though I’m a figural painter, there isn’t a lot of contemporary figural art I like because its too stiff. I think people tend to follow the same pattern and they tend to quit experimenting with their technique. I also think its important to paint for yourself, not what people want you to paint. I often get requests to paint more still-lifes and birds from people who want to buy them. I only paint these types of things if I’m personally motivated to. It might be tempting to paint things that I think are more salable – to pump out a bunch of mediocre art. I’ve tried making a “retail” series before and they’ve never sold as well or for as much as paintings that I did to satisfy myself. I think its really bad for artists to get stuck like that. Just stay true to yourself!
Secrets: Whats your personal soundtrack at the moment?
Caitlin: I have not had any time to get the old iPod out and fill it up with music. So, Ive been listening to Minnesota Public radio whether its the classical station or The Current. And then, this is kind of bad but, I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix while I’m painting but, more so I listen to it so as long as its in English I can paint while I listen to it. I just need some background noise while I paint.
Secrets: Whats the best part about Minneapolis?
Caitlin: I would say the best part about Minneapolis is that its very affordable to live here, you can have a nice studio. I cant imagine what my studio would cost in New York City. I would not be able to afford a nice studio there. In Minneapolis you can create a body of work and send your paintings out. I’ve gotten to visit different countries and cities, different big art fairs. If I was struggling to make it in a bigger city I wouldn’t be able to travel like that.
Secrets: Whats you favorite establishment in Minneapolis?
Caitlin: I really like the MIA as far as museums go. I like the Walker too.
Secrets: Childhood dream career.
Caitlin: I wanted to be an archaeologist, specifically an Egyptology working with mummies. Maybe thats why Im so morbid now, Im not sure. (laughs)