For the latest Bushwick Open Studios artist profile, we visited the lovely Carol Salmanson, a Bushwick-based visual artist working primarily with light and reflective materials. Most recently, Carol had a solo show at Storefront Bushwick gallery on Wilson Avenue, and later this year her work will be on display in a group exhibition curated by Karin Bravin at Lehman College in the Bronx. A studio resident of 56 Bogart for 6 years, Carol has a close connection to many artists and organizations in the building – most notably as the Vice President of the Board at NURTUREart, which took up residence in the basement of 56 Bogart last October.
On a recent cloudy Saturday, Carol welcomed a pair of BOS bloggers to her studio for a peek at her recent work and a crash course in LED lights. We asked Carol a few questions about her art, Bushwick, and the perils of amateur electrical work:
What inspired you to start using light in your work?
I was a painter, but I’d always wanted to work with light because light has a lot of special qualities that I find very magical. So in 2003 or 2004 I finally bit the bullet and forced myself to learn how to work with lights. A friend of mine sat me down and taught me the basics of electronics, and then I figured out the rest!
Then I started working with LEDs. It turns out that there are a lot of different kinds of LEDs. I discovered that if I work with different shapes and colors of LEDs, and also with different types of reflective and transparent materials, it’s almost like painting, but it has the qualities of light.
The show that I have up right now at Storefront and what I’ll be showing primarily [for BOS] is drawing based work. I used LEDs and wire, and backlighting and diffusion to create drawings. I call them gesture drawings. They actually do start with a gesture drawing, and from there I drill holes for the LEDs into plexiglass. I have LEDs going through both sides of the plexi, so that you have wires on both sides of the plexiglass. Then the wires create a drawing, in addition to the LEDs creating the light and the color. (Watch a video of Carol showing these works at her recent show at Storefront Bushwick gallery. Video by Bushwick Daily.)
How did you learn to do all of this?
It was a steep learning curve. A friend of mine said, “Oh you can learn it! You can learn it!” So he had me over for lunch and he said, “Okay, this is Ohm’s Law… Volts times amps equals watts…” and yadi-yadi-ya. Fortunately, I was fairly decent at algebra, so I could grasp the stuff. And then I started doing a lot of studying on the Internet. I would email lists of questions for him, and he’d email me the answers. And then I just started working with them! And I fell in love with them!
Have you ever had any mishaps with the LEDs? Any lost pieces due to electrical accidents?
No, because this is just 5 volts. But the first time I ever worked with light was in 1995 and I tried neon. I backlit some paintings – and that’s 600 volts – and I touched the bare wires. I screamed at the top of my lungs – totally involuntarily. I later found out that it could have killed me. Now I work with 5 volts!
How long have you been in Bushwick?
I have had my studio in this building for 6 years. There were no galleries here until a year ago last March, and by June 1st there will be 10. I try not to think about what will happen to my rent when my lease is up!
When I first moved in, on one end of the hall were a father and son who manufactured fine apparel for the discerning ferret. And on the other end was a man who manufactured – you know the Sunday hats with all the fancy stuff on them? Well he didn’t have enough space, so the hallway was filled with all these hat trees and all these fancy Sunday hats. Between the two it was pretty wild!
Has your work been influenced by the neighborhood at all?
I guess you could say it is. There is a certain energy in Bushwick that is very raw and it’s very vital. There is a good mix of different kinds of artists, different ages, different everything. Like, if you go to the galleries [in Manhattan] it seems like the galleries are all looking at one thing, but out here it is much more vibrant. It’s almost like a cauldron, like a melting pot.
Have you ever participated in BOS before?
Yes, I did last year.
Any memorable moments?
There were a lot of them! The most memorable thing about last year was that we got tons and tons and tons of people here with no L train. It was really stunning!
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and show us your studio, Carol! You can see more of Carol Salmanson’s work on her website at www.CarolSalmanson.com — but we highly recommend you check it out in person during BOS weekend, in her studio at 56 Bogart. —Written by Lili Rusing. Photographs by Kerosene Rose.