Karen Lederer was mid-move when I visited her, so all the good stuff was piled in a corner: a fried fish bag from Martha’s Vineyard (unused), scraggly paint tubes, we-are-happy-serve-you Anthora cups (also unused) and some unavoidable, omnipresent LaCroix cans.
Because Karen was born in New York City, she pronounces ‘LaCroix’ like it’s French (la kwah). I’m from the midwest, where LaCroix was born (in the 80s, like me) so I know that this sparkling bev is actually from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and is named after the St. Croix river, which hasn’t been pronounced ‘ree-vee-ehr kwah’ since we bought it from the fur-loving French. And so, for middle americans, ‘LaCroix’ rhymes with ‘enjoy’. We talked about this and laughed.
All this to say, Karen is elegant, and a good sport, and willing to take matters of popular culture (relatively) seriously—her paintings, which are actually a layered blend of monoprinting and painting, have a purposely popular feel. Karen likes to include things like Adidas with socks and LaCroix cans because they feel current; they offer a jolt of recognition that immediately feels intimate.
The perspective of Karen’s paintings, too, is intimate and current: hands hold bouquets of flowers in a de rigueur Instagram style, like ice cream cones, and appear in still lifes, holding mugs. Everything is very near and very immediate, and semi-static, semi-energetic, like a goldfish in a staring contest with a vase.
Perhaps this is a habit leftover from printmaking, which she focused on before combining printing and painting, but she always paints on a table rather than vertically; it seems to affect her perspective slightly, adding a layer of authorship that links the hand in the paintings to her hand in a way that’s more obvious, and more present.
It’s a discredit to say Karen’s work is all Instagram-age popularity: her paintings are also tenderly connected to Matisse, and to Picasso. The route to Picasso is clear (through his intimate gifted bouquet, for example), and Matisse’s women appear frequently—dancing, and in faces.
It’s particularly funny to see Cheetos, which Karen dubs “the most intimate snack food”, because of the finger dust, mirroring Matisse’s “The Dance”.
Karen is enjoying an especially successful era, with a show at Cuevas Tilleard (“Simple Pleasures”) closing today, a residency at The Lower East Side Printshop, and a new studio in Dumbo as part of the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program. She has a show coming up with Field Projects in March, too.
It felt like a good time to ask what she does when she feels like she sucks: she told me, “It’s inevitable. I make bad work, but hopefully it feels weird, and I recognize that it’s bad. It can get you somewhere. For two years after grad school I was making bad work, but I also wasn’t doing studio visits; I stayed in my studio and worked through it.”
TECHNICAL STUDIO STATS — KAREN LEDERER
Size: 10′ x 12′ with 15′ ceilings and two 12′ open-topped walls
Location: Dean Street, Crown Heights (moving to Dumbo mid-September!)