Profile: Caroline Harrison

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I often find myself beginning profiles of people I know by telling you what a great person the profilee is. Well, this one isn’t going to be much different. Except my effusive praise for this young lady can be substantiated by scientific principles. Caroline is an exceptional human being. One that everyone should feel privileged to know. Her humor, talent and insightful intelligence know no bounds. When it comes to her art, Caroline is not only talented, she’s downright phenomenal. Despite her piss-poor self-promotional abilities, almost everyone praises her artwork, photography skills and general awesomeness. So, herein follows a brief look into the mind of a genius. 

How did you first get into art as a career and have you achieved the level of success that you always hoped to? What was the moment when you realized you had actual talent?

Some time during high school, I made the decision to major in art when I got to college.  As a result of work I did during for my senior thesis, Doug, the vocalist for Pyrrhon, decided to trust me with the album art for the band’s first full LP. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to get to work with them for the past several years as a result. Because I’ve been in a relationship with Doug since before he joined the band, I’ve been uniquely positioned to watch their sound mature and grow over the years. We’ve kind of grown up artistically alongside each other in that respect. In addition, I was burnt out on making art after I graduated from school, and so the opportunity to work with these guys was a kind of artistic kick-in-the-pants that I sorely needed. I was stuck in a rut where I thought most of my ideas were trash, and I couldn’t really get anything to a spot where I felt like my work was finished, or felt like it was good enough. Working with Pyrrhon helped me get outside of my own head.

“Talent” is a weird thing to pin down. When you’re a kid it’s easy—if you can copy a drawing in a book, or if you can draw a realistic portrait of someone, you’re “talented.” As you get older, the concept starts to get much scarier and less well-defined. Talent begins to extend to the quality of your ideas, and I have a difficult time judging whether my ideas are good ones. As a result, I just try to produce work that I’m excited to make, and I hope that strangers see it and connect with it. I don’t have any tangible goals beyond making good work that makes people think.

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What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your art into a show,  magazine or otherwise promoted, covered and praised? If you don’t have a story please tell us any embarrassing story that loosely relates to your art.

I am REALLY terrible at self-promotion—genuinely terrible at it—and I always feel like I’m conning people into paying attention to me. So I basically don’t do it outside of putting hashtags on my Instagram posts (which, again, makes me feel suuuuuper gross).

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What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now? What are some of the fun things happening with darker forms of art these days?

I’ve always really loved work that’s been able to combine grotesque, horrifying concepts with alluring visual execution—work that makes the viewer feel uncomfortable but also draws the viewer in. I think that’s probably why a lot of the visual art I’ve gravitated towards has been so weirdly metal-adjacent. The Last Rites gallery in Manhattan has had some compelling examples of this recently—Allison Sommers, Henrik Uldalen, and Eric Lacombe have all had solo shows there in the past few months, and all of them have done album covers for metal or metal-influenced acts.

There are still a bunch of bands that are doing the whole skulls-plus-bare-breasted-Art-Nouveau-babes thing, which, whatever. But then you have that Fórn/Yautja split with the gorgeous, trippy, spooky Brandon Geurts watercolor on the cover. Metal is comfortable taking aesthetic risks in a way that allows for unusually rewarding creative relationships with artists. There’s also a lot of room for a sort of absurdity and humor in metal—I have seen a bunch of people on Facebook posting Alex Eckman-Lawn’s cover for the new Zealotry, and while the cover is striking, it’s also a giant eye peering out of the sky that’s got a Jack and the Beanstalk style vine that’s forming an enormous DNA strand. It’s totally ridiculous! And funny! And somehow threatening!

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It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your art?

With album art, I keep it related to the lyrical content and the album title. Accurately representing the album and creating an image that matches the music is the most important aspect of working with any band. The part of the music or the lyrics that draw me in the most, that relate to things I connect with, is the most fruitful creative territory. Some people can spend time rendering stuff they’re not interested in and produce great work, but I’m not one of those people. I’ve been lucky when creating work for Pyrrhon and Seputus. A lot of Doug’s lyrical themes are closely related to stuff I explore in my personal work. The tumor imagery that I used in for the Mother of Virtues cover wasn’t something that came from the lyrics but I felt like it was an appropriate visual metaphor—the lyrics to the title track contain a lot of anxieties about overpopulation and unrestrained reproduction. Cancer arises out of cell mutations, many of which lead to rapid and harmful cell growth. I’d been interested in exploring fleshy masses and tumor growths prior to starting work on the album art, and I’ve continued to do so in my work since, so it was serendipitous that the images were appropriate for the sound and the lyrics.

Work that tries to tell you what or how to feel is often clumsy. I don’t want the experience of viewing my work to feel prescriptive or preachy. As a result, I don’t spend much time consciously chasing specific issues in my work. I do return to a bunch of consistent thematic elements concerning female identity, mental and physical illness, the human body, and ornamentation. But I return to these because I’m interested in the range of ideas those images can express. They afford me an opportunity to explore and blur the boundaries between images and ideas that repulse or transfix. Ambiguity is a useful tool: it offers room for the viewer to meet an artist part way, and to bring something of him or herself to the work. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I’m saying with my work as much as how people engage with it, and the meaning they find in it. I can influence that to a point, but trying to control exactly how someone responds to a piece makes for boring art.

Cover art for Pyrrhon's 2014 sophomore LP, The Mother of Virtues, Relapse Records
Cover art for Pyrrhon’s 2014 sophomore LP, The Mother of Virtues, Relapse Records

What, or who, got you into metal, or just music in general, and how old were you? How did your family take the news?

My dad used to play guitar and I’d sing along. As I got older, I got pretty seriously into singing—mostly classical stuff, folk, or sad bastard music. I got more and more interested in checking out weird, aggressive music. Dating a musician and music writer has definitely helped with that, and I’ve gotten into a lot of great bands both through him and through mutual friends. He still hasn’t successfully gotten me into brutal, traditional death metal, but I think he’s come to terms with that.

My family’s mostly just glad that I have diverse taste in music.

What’s the stickiest you have ever been?

It was either when I had to make collages for my color theory class using rubber cement, or the first time I used spray-adhesive to make books for an intro design class. Take that, provocative question!

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You seem pretty dedicated to your vision. What advice do you have for aspiring music artists out there? How can we writers better serve artists associated with the metal scene.

I do think that the metal scene values and rewards visual artists in a way that I haven’t seen from coverage of other types of music. I mean, pieces like this are proof of that. Also, I love seeing writing that mentions about the album art. Obviously, there’s a time and a place and a 200 word blurb might (might) not be that time or place, but if the art contributed to the overall experience of consuming the music, fucking yeah! Mention it! At least one person, and probably several, put a lot of time and thought into the album art.

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What’s your goal? You thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.

I take pretty shitty care of myself. I should probably do better at that.

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Finally what are some of you favorite albums to listen to currently?

Third by Portishead; Con Art by Smart Went Crazy; Paradise Gallows by Inter Arma; Rid of Me by PJ Harvey; Asphalt for Eden by Dälek; Dead Revolution by Hammers of Misfortune; Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not by Dinosaur Jr.; The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left by Future of the Left; Alopecia by Why?; Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair; Scattered, Smothered and Covered by Unsane; Trophy by Made Out of Babies; Songs of Descent by Yautja

A massive thank you to Caroline Harrison for her time. You can check out her work here. Be sure to follow her on all relevant social media: Twitter, InstagramFlickr, Tumblr, etc. You can pick up some beautiful prints of her work (primarily show posters) here.

Artwork by Caroline from the upcoming Seputus album available 10.21.2016 via PRC Music
Artwork by Caroline from the upcoming Seputus album, “Man Does Not Give” available 10.21.2016 via PRC Music

 

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