Our artist of the month from BAC’s Registry of Brooklyn Artists is Carly Bodnar, a visual artist working primarily in oil on canvas. Originally from Eugene and Portland, Oregon, she now paints in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Anxiety over the body, over the very material of the flesh, is a primary impetus in her art making. We sat down and asked her a few questions about her practice.
I am a visual artist working primarily in oil on canvas. My work concerns flesh and the figure, with overtones of anxiety and obsessiveness.
Where are you from? How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
I’m originally from Eugene, Oregon. I’ve had my studio in Greenpoint for over a year and a half now.
How long have you been a practicing artist?
I guess that depends on how you want to define “practicing.” I started to create and show a coherent body of work outside of a class/school context in about 2007.
Who or what influenced your decision to become an artist?
“Artist” has always been my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” except for a brief phase when I thought I wanted to be an interpreter for the United Nations. Luckily (or unluckily?) nobody ever felt the need to crush that impulse.
What do/did your parents do for a living and were they supportive of you becoming an artist?
My mom is an office manager and my dad’s a carpenter and house painter. They’ve always been incredibly supportive. My mom, when she was a kid, had artistic impulses that were squashed, and my dad is a skilled maker of all sorts of things, so those are obvious factors. I’ve gotten a lot of practical support from them: business and financial advice from my mom, and hands-on making-stuff skills from my dad. They’ve also been really emotionally/psychologically supportive; they’re both pretty entrepreneurial and independent, so I’ve always been encouraged to go my own way and figure out how to live my life, career and otherwise, on my own terms.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to Portland State University and got my bachelors with a double-major in Fine Art (Painting/Drawing/Printmaking concentration) and Spanish. I also spent a year studying abroad in Spain, and although most of my classwork was linguistics and literature with a little art history (no studio classes), I think that time was immensely influential to my artistic development. It was then that I started working in oils, but more importantly it was an opportunity to just paint what interested me and experiment with styles and ideas outside of assignments or deadlines or a rigid schedule.
What inspires you artistically?
Looking back over my work, it becomes clear that my friends and acquaintances are a big component. I remember when I was in the process of moving to New York, asking a friend-of-a-friend who lived here if she would be open to modeling for me, and being surprised at the nonchalant nature of her answer. People here just seem so open, and being able to generate my own copious photographic references has really opened new avenues into my being able to make work about the body, which is my core artistic interest.
Which other artists inspire you?
Lately I’ve been looking a lot at Alex Kanevsky’s work, the fragmentation of his figures and spaces. I also really love Robin Williams’ work with her sort of suggested, bizarre little narratives. I’ve been following Aleah Chapin for a little bit now, too. Her technical skill is amazing but her intent behind the work is also very much in line with my interests. Looking back a few years, though, Jenny Saville was the first artist whose work I really connected to intensely. I remember the first time I saw a piece of hers, just a little tiny image in a magazine, and even in that scale being struck by the power she wielded in the way she used the paint itself and the (female) figure – both elements that are still both very much in the forefront of my mind when I’m working. I remember having this sense of relief or validation, that the kind of paintings I wanted to make is not only possible, but also legitimate.
What’s your favorite place in Brooklyn to visit for inspiration?
My favorite art museum is the Brooklyn Museum, which I’m lucky to live close to now, but I don’t necessarily go there when I’m in need of inspiration. I try to get out and see work in galleries. Sometimes it’s inspiring, but sometimes it just makes me angry, and I’m generally terrible at making a regular habit of it. Really, the city itself just has great energy. If I’m in need of a creative boost, getting out and walking or biking around will usually do the trick.
Do you make a living from your art? If not, do you have a “day job” and what is it?
I don’t. And my first reaction is to say “I wish,” but in reality that’s not true. I’ve sold work, but I think for where I am right now in my career and development as a painter, it’s really good for me to have a source of income that is totally independent from my artwork. Financial pressures often feel really corrosive with regard to my ability to trust my gut and take leaps of faith when I’m making work. Since I do need a ‘day job,’ restaurant work has surfaced as the option that is least detrimental to my ability to make work. I’m happier waiting tables than I was in a 9-to-5 situation. The schedule works better for me – I’ve always been a night owl, but now I can go work a dinner shift and then paint all night without a problem. And restaurants are full of all sorts of creatives building their careers, so that camaraderie is a plus.
How did you get started presenting your work publicly?
I’ve applied and submitted to things, but it seems like the opportunities that tend to work out for me are the ones that somehow find me, not the other way around. In Portland, I had work in two galleries that both found me because I had one tiny piece in a huge group show. My show in the Bronx came about because a coworker had a contact at an art space up there. I got roped into another show by a studio mate. And recently, I reconnected with Nicole Salgar, with whom I worked briefly for another artist when I first moved here, and who has started curating some really awesome group shows; I’m going to have new work at CultureFix in January as part of the next show she’s putting together.