Collage Master Caris Reid Merges Healing with Art

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You may know Caris Reid from her popular collage workshops where she lets students into the seemingly endless treasure trove of old prints and magazines she’s collected since she was a teen.  She presides over these with a graceful air, offering insight that pushes attendees to dip into the well of their subconscious. It follows that Caris views her workshops as more than just arts and crafts time—she’s very much in tune with the interplay of art and emotions. A certified Reiki instructor, Caris infuses her worships with elements of healing, and sometimes opens them with a group meditation.

Reid is also a painter whose cosmically-inclined work has been shown in galleries from Berlin to Dallas. Her upcoming show at Denny Gallery, “TIME & TIDE” with Amanda Valdez, will be revealed in two phases: with the new and full moon. The series examines our relationship with lunar forces. Inspired by their extensive research on anthropological based texts, 1970’s feminist lunar consciousness texts, astronomy texts, and mythological stories, Reid’s highly colorful works are as stunning as they are infused with lore. While much of her work is influenced by historic female archetypes, Reid believes in moving past binary gender constructs. You might find yourself examining your inner dualities, and better able to tap into both the inner feminine and masculine within you: Meditate on that!

I spoke with Reid to learn more about her work and process: the inspiration behind Reid’s colorful paintings, working in Brooklyn, and on why art and healing make a natural pair.

Your collage workshops are so popular. What’s the backstory there? Have you always collected old prints and magazines?
I’m fascinated with visual histories, the way that we communicate our beliefs, our desires, and our emotions through images, both consciously and unconsciously. I started collecting vintage books and magazines as a teenager…. the images would find their way into my collages or would become references for paintings. Several years ago I started teaching a collage class at The Oracle Club, and opened up my archive of vintage images to my students; each class had a theme and a curated selection of images pulled from my collection. People really responded to the class, and four years later, I’ve hosted hundreds of workshops, in NY, LA,  Dallas and Boston. I’ve taught private workshops for creative teams like Refinery 29, hosted collage bachelorettes for brides who wanted something less conventional, and co-hosted workshops with friends of mine like Samantha Pleet and Calico Wallpaper. On the surface, people come to my workshops to make a collage, but really I’m trying to get people to relax, tap into their subconscious, and ideally walk out the door feeling better than when they walked in. New York can be a stressful place to live; I see my workshops as a safe haven.

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Your paintings are very colorful; can you expound a bit on your relationship to color?
I have an intuitive relationship to color…in art school we learned about color theory, but what was less discussed was the way colors make you feel. Some of the associations are obvious, like red as an indicator of aggression or passion, but others are subtle. I can spend hours changing the color of an eye or a circle, observing the way it alters the mood, and waiting until I get the desired moment of  tension. I’m currently working on paintings for Time & Tide with Amanda Valdez, themed around duality and lunar cycles, and my paintings are going through a very nocturnal phase…there’s a lot of black and cobalt and purple at play.

Time & Tide opens at Denny Gallery on a new moon. Was this intentional?
Yes it was. The show is being revealed in two phases: Phase 1 opens on the new moon on April 7th, and Phase 2 will open the day after the full moon, on April 23rd. We wanted to mirror the moon’s transformation between the new moon and full moon with our exhibition. This will be the third time Amanda and I have collaborated.

Aesthetically, who inspires you the most?
Hilma af Klint, Joan Brown, Robert Fludd, Dorothy Iannone, Bridget Riley, Penny Slinger, John Wesley. I tend to like artists that have bold color sensibilities, crisp edges, and either a sense of humor or a deep spirituality to their work. Humor and spirituality are not natural bedfellows, but they should be! Most humor could use a little more reverence, and most spirituality could use a little more levity.

You’ve shown art from Berlin to Dallas. Do you ever see yourself moving elsewhere to make art, or is there something specific to Brooklyn that makes you want to stay and work here?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn, on and off, for the past ten years. My studio is in Greenpoint and a short walk from my apartment, so I have a pretty fortunate set up with a lot of my artist friends (and amazing food) close by.  I do daydream about spending more time on the West Coast. I was in California for four months a few years ago, and my paintings changed radically. For now, though, Brooklyn is home.

You also do Reiki. Can you describe your path to becoming a healer?
My first encounter with Reiki was 6 or 7 years ago…I started attending a weekly Reiki circle held in a community room of a hospital with a friend of mine. We were 20 years younger than everyone there, and the group sang a Whitney Houston song at the start of every meeting…the evenings felt strange and therapeutic, and just a little campy and I totally loved it. Then in 2010, I invited that same group to offer Reiki to the public as an extension of a show I had curated called “Autosuggestion”. A few years after that, I worked privately with a Reiki healer to Reiki all my paintings, as an exploration of the art object having talismanic power, then began studying Reiki myself. I’m now technically a Reiki Master and Reiki all my paintings. Two of my teachers, who are both dear friends, were very influential in that process. Kathrin Smirke, who lives in Joshua Tree, and Erika Spring who lives here in New York.      

You recently combined collage with meditation at Maha Rose. Where do art and healing intersect, in your opinion? Have you practiced meditation for a long time?  I meditate on a daily basis and always meditate before starting to paint. Otherwise I get so anxious! That process of calming and centering the mind has helped me enormously in the studio and has heightened my ability to focus. My collage workshops have always had an undertone of healing but now it’s more overt with the introduction of guided meditations. Maha is such a soothing environment; it ’s the perfect backdrop for the class.  My next workshop at Maha is on March 19th

Do you think the healing community in Brooklyn is growing?
It seems to be!

You’ve said that your work “often channels female archetypes of strength.” Did a particular experience or discovery of literary and philosophical texts lead to this?
My conclusions are mostly from experience, but Mira Schor, Leonard Shlain, and Carl Jung were all influential. I don’t believe in a prescriptive way of being, for any gender, and am of the mindset that variation creates a healthier happier society. The traditional model of power is still very rigid in its alpha masculinity, and as an ambitious woman, I’m often confronted by the limitations of such a narrow example of success. My paintings often explore femininity, but I see the female archetype as an energy existing in both genders.  In my series “Water Warriors” the figures are immersed in an undulating water, their bodies naked and covered in symbols, starring unapologetically into the eye of the viewer. Held eye contact can be both a form of deeper connection or of dominance, depending on the context. I see the “Water Warriors” as an archetype of strength rooted in qualities like emotion and intuition. Formally I used symmetry and curvilinear shapes to create a hypnotic and soothing visual space.

How do you think we (men and women) can get closer to our understanding of the sacred female in a modern context?
We’re so accustomed to a binary construct of gender and so many human experiences have been labeled as “feminine” or “masculine” when they belong to everyone. Undervalued receptive qualities like empathy, listening and sensitivity are universal, and can be incredible strengths when harnessed correctly. Sensitivity is so often seen as a negative, but really it’s like having a superpower, the ability to sense and feel without being told. Learning to use intuition in decision making can lead to positive and powerful outcomes, and is a skill that can be strengthened like building a muscle…. what was my earlier quote about the necessity of humor? Lol! I need to take my advice, getting so serious about all this! Really, like anything, what we need is more balance.

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