Lives and works in Chicago IL and Saint Paul MN
The skillful blending of representational images with abstract form is Andrea Carlson’s aesthetic métier whereby she constructs complex narratives that mine the uneasy subjects of cultural stereotyping by museums or popular cinema, and the unwieldy process of cultural assimilation and appropriation. An agile thinker and a deft technician, Carlson uses paper as a support for most of her work, variously employing acrylic and oil paint, watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, and graphite and colored pencil to conjure up her suggestive but opaque stories. She often works serially and on a large scale, integrating hyper-realistic images with passages of indeterminate space or dense graphic patterning to create fantastical landscapes, ones that are at once oddly familiar yet unmistakably foreign.
Carlson’s vividly hued VORE series was inspired by the role that public collections of art and artifacts play in our larger culture experience. For the title, she invokes the edgy term for the fetish to be consumed by another - or to consume another – whole, as a metaphor for cultural appropriation. Ink Babel, her monochromatic 10 by 15-foot mural that comprises 60 pieces of paper arranged in a grid, addresses the insidious power of exploitation films through a cache of images ranging from scorpions to cell-phone towers to Christopher Columbus’s three infamous ships. In Ink Babel, she visually marshals certain ideas and techniques of film sequencing used to create narrative content - factual or not - as a self-critique of the genre.
“Stereotypes are part of what people use to construct narratives about others,” Carlson has stated. “I am interested in storytelling, the transmission of knowledge and perception, but I am not addressing specific stereotypes.” For Carlson, ‘who is telling stories for whom?’ is a provocative question. “Often people who are vested in an identity are unjustly saddled with old, anthropological ideas of who they are. Any changes to that code render them ‘unauthentic’ and cultures are institutionally killed. I often call museums papa storytellers, as they tell stories for objects to give objects significance and cultural value. It is a powerful position to be in…when they invariably get it wrong, it’s too late.”
Carlson’s Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), French and Scandinavian heritage provides a rich foundation for her investigations of cultural consumption, history and identity, and the intrinsic power of storytelling. For Carlson, creating a location – an actual space – in her work is important so that the viewer can gain access to her stories. Associative pieces, they allow the viewer to freely interpret Carlson’s narratives, drawing from their own experiences and cultural beliefs. “A key component of creating significance is location…the illusion of space created within a work,” Carlson has stated. “Many objects and animals referenced in my work are from disparate places, they have different significance to different locales, but are framed in the same piece as if a vast landscape has been folded together.”
Carlson has lived and worked for most of her life in Minnesota. In the spring of 2016 she moved to Chicago but still maintains a studio in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Carlson received her MFA in Visual Studies from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design in 2005 and a BA in Studio Arts and American Indian Studies from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 2003. Carlson has been the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships including those awarded by the Carolyn Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the McKnight Foundation.
In addition to her one-person shows at Bockley Gallery (2008, 2011 and 2014), Carlson’s work has been the subject of solo shows at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2016) and La Centrale at the Powerhouse, Montreal QC (2016); the Plug In Institute for Contemporary Art in Winnipeg MB (2014); the Plains Art Museum, Fargo ND (2010); The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, New York NY (2009); and Soo Visual Art Center, Minneapolis MN (2006), among others. Since 1997 her work has been featured in numerous group shows across the US and Canada, as well as in Venice, Italy and London, England. In addition to the many reviews and articles on her work, Carlson has worked as a writer and curator, and she is an accomplished lecturer.
Carlson’s work is found in private, public and corporate collections, including those of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; the Plains Art Museum, Fargo ND; the Tweed Art Museum, Duluth MN; The British Museum, London, England; the Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis MN.