“The Territory of Our Longings” with Caroline Sharpless

Caroline Sharpless (NAP #108) paints interior spaces, breathing life into the very heart of the walls and architectural environments she creates. Her rooms oscillate between featuring mundane, muted colors lacking details and interiors highlighting bold bursts of jewel tones with precise intricacies. Both styles tap into and recall familiar memories we all have from the spaces we have inhabited, visited, or come to know.

These spaces seem to carry a human presence, as if some very essence of our earthly being has seeped into their walls. Her paintings remind me of the feelings we have all encountered when packing up an apartment or home. There is always a moment during that process when we stand back and look at the space and see it stripped down to its bare architectural form – furniture, décor, and memories all neatly packed away. And there is always a pang of longing and bittersweet realization, for me at least, that somehow I no longer belong in this space I once called home.

Sharpless captures this mix of poignant and oh-so-human feelings beautifully and seamlessly. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor


Caroline Sharpless | Time’s Decision Shook, 30 x 30 inches, oil on canvas.


Caroline Sharpless | Acapulco Sunrise, 30 x 30 inches, oil on canvas.

Ellen Caldwell: Something about your empty paintings really stuck with me...and haunted me a bit. There is an emptiness in them that is strangely inviting, while also eerie.  Can you tell me a bit about your motivations and process?

Caroline Sharpless: I have always been interested in the built environment and its psychological implications. Where we live, where we have lived, where we want to live is so entwined in our “reality.” Architectural spaces shape the reality of events, the territory of our longings, the memories that we rely on. I look at my empty rooms as liminal spaces, pregnant with possibility, empty and full at the same time.


Caroline Sharpless | Between Pine and Grief, 30 x 40 inches, oil on canvas.

EC: I love how you are able to clear a space down to its architectural core and base structure. Do you actually paint from real places and spaces you know, or is it an imaginative process?

CS: My source material is the endless world of real estate ads and ads from magazines. They are made to seduce us with layouts that draw us in and promise the key to happiness. My aim is not to be sentimental about the spaces. I strip away the furniture and hardware until the room is at its most basic: walls, window, floor, ceiling. With a strong drawing I am able to build a painting with formalist concerns. An abstract examination of how we live is my aim.


Caroline Sharpless | Sandstorm, 40 x 57.5 inches, oil on canvas.

EC: In your NAP artist statement, you talk about how your architectural spaces are "part sterile environment, part utopian dream."  This intrigued me. Do you think there is a distopic nature to them then or is it something different and more about the push-pull between the contradicting feelings you are able to create and pit against one another?

CS: The rooms I paint are basically banal spaces – entries, kitchens, bathrooms. They are both familiar and mysterious and just welcoming enough to allow questioning of these structures we long for. The never-ending quest for the utopian dream is self-defeating and self-fulfilling. Satisfaction is the moment before you need more satisfaction (to alter an advertising quote).


Caroline Sharpless | Gael, 41 x 60.5 inches, oil on canvas.

EC: What are you currently working on and does it differ much from these earlier works?

CS: I am working on two series right now. One is a continuation of interiors with one light source and abstracted further – think bathroom ads slammed with Richard Diebenkorn color. The other series I call Doppelgangers. I use installation shots from gallery websites and the “bowtie” interiors are the basic structure of the canvas. I am interested in exploring the life of paintings in their commercial settings.

The heart of my work has always been the idealistic realities we are all searching for. How we come to understand ourselves through the images that entice us will always be a fascinating subject to me.

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Caroline Sharpless currently has a painting in the Assistance League of Houston Celebrates Texas Art 2014 and a few other smaller shows. Her latest series Doppelgangers focuses on gallery interiors and will be included in a show at the University of Houston in “A Gallery of Galleries.”

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.

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