Art Corner: featuring Houston artist Karen Navarro

Jan 29, 2021 | Uncategorized

By: Judy Nyquist and Laura Worth

Identity, diversity, expression, and self-representation; are just some of the themes that run through Argentine artist Karen Navarro’s work – which brilliantly combines digital photography with mixed media to create innovative portraits that make us consider and question what we see, and who we really are. Read more about this exceptional artist and her journey since coming to Houston.

Karen Navarro moved to Houston, TX, in 2015 from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and at that moment pivoted her career from fashion design to artist.  She engaged with Houston’s artist community and found it to be a nurturing and engaging environment in which to launch her career as an artist.  Since then, she has been the recipient of many grants and fellowships, has had her works displayed all around the state and nation, and has expanded her practice from digital photography to a craft-based approach, employing mixed media and new techniques to create sculptural works of art that are compelling and colorful.

See below to hear more about her work, her philosophy, her process, and her future projects!

Karen Navarro Q & A:

What are some things about Houston that have inspired you since moving here, and helped develop you as an artist?

The experience of moving to Houston from Argentina has influenced and defined my work significantly. I’ll be forever thankful to the city for receiving me with open arms, and for enabling me to start my career in art. The support from the friendly and diverse art community here has been a true inspiration. I have learned so much from my peers, and my work has most certainly been influenced by the diversity of the environment here.

How does your voice as a woman influence your projects, informing which ones you choose to do, the subject matter, etc?

My voice as a woman is certainly part of my artistic identity, it is a theme throughout my work. Having been raised, for a time, in a single mother’s home taught me to be strong and independent. This influenced and has come to define who I am and the way I work.

Raising awareness to my audience that female artists need support has been a large goal of mine. In the U.S. only 11% of museum acquisitions and 14% of exhibitions represent works by women. On top of that, less than 1% of acquisitions are works by Hispanic/Latino female artists and less than 1% represents works by African American artists. By supporting a female artist today, we can contribute to changing history.

How did your background in fashion influence your development as an artist? Describe to our audience how CRAFT plays such a significant role in your work.

When I relocated to the U.S. I had to pivot my skills in order to keep working in the creative field. I transitioned from fashion design to fashion photography, and then from fashion photography to fine art photography and mixed media. In photography, I found a passion and a medium that allows me to express myself in a way where I can create my own worlds with no restrictions, norms, or rules. Nonetheless, I found myself wanting to experiment more—to create works that are made with my hands—which is the type of work I am exploring and creating today—a more craft (process) oriented work.

You work a great deal with the topic of identity—yet your subjects can be (and often are) strangers. In a world where ‘identity’ is so curated by social media and personal branding, how do you explore this in your portraits and in your choice of presentation?

Yes, my work deals a lot with the topic of identity. To address the complexity of identity I combine photography with other materials in unconventional ways to challenge our visual perceptions.

Sometimes questions of identity take a philosophical turn but in the series of portraits “El Pertenecer en Tiempos Modernos (Belonging in Modern Times)” I explore how self-representation through social media creates belonging. By deconstructing the image, I create collages that reflect this idea that the online “us” is an illusion of ourselves; this idea that we curate the online “us,” and show how we want to be seen and perceived.

What are some of your dream projects or goals as you grow as an artist? Do you offer commissions?

I have many dreams, but speaking in general terms, as I grow as an artist I would like to gain national and international recognition. I would like to find and foster the support of individuals and institutions to have a long, steady and sustainable art career with meaningful and relevant work.

Yes, I do offer commissions and I look forward to creating site-specific work for collectors. My gallerists, Bryn Larsen and Geoffrey Koslov (at Foto Relevance here in Houston), handle the details and arrangements for specific commissions. It is a special opportunity to work with a collector to create unique and distinctive pieces for them. The process is pretty straight forward. After deciding the details with the gallery, we discuss the main idea with the client and have a photo shoot at my studio. Then, with the images taken, I create the artwork. A commissioned work can be quite a statement piece and a wonderful acquisition for years to come.

What is your process like when you work? Do you listen to music, juggle several pieces at a time, work through the night – what works for you?

Before I make an image or create a work, I do a lot of mind mapping and planning. But usually, ideas change throughout the process of creating a piece. I have found that the more I work the more ideas I get or solutions I find for the pieces I am creating or want to create. For this reason, I am constantly working on something, sketching, or looking for materials or testing them, developing an idea, or actually fabricating the piece. If I am working on collages, generally I start from my own digital photographs. I cut and reassemble the images to create a new form or a new character. I like to refer to this as “constructed portraits” since I like to push the boundaries of photography and occupy that space between practices. For example, if I am making a sculpture, I cut the photographs and reconstruct them, adding wood, paint, resin, and other materials. Metaphorically, adding physical properties to the work to create multiple layers refers to the complexity of identity.

Any hints/previews you want to give our audience of what you are working on now?

I am working on a project inspired by the recent instances of social injustices in the United States and my experience as an immigrant woman. For this project, I opened a call on Instagram to collect a diverse range of images of skin tones. At this moment, I am working with the skin tone images submitted by participants in the American continent. I plan to use these photographs combined with language, and U.S. Census data to create work that will touch upon topics like belonging, migration, and collective and personal identity. Through data interpretation and personal meditations and reflections around race and power, I want to reclaim a space for the minorities who have long been marginalized and underrepresented.