Biography

by Charles T. Rulander II,

 Associate Professor, St. Thomas University, 1994

  It has been said by some that we live in a “cardboard” world, filled with cut-outs and imitation, doomed by our fragility and ever-alienated from strength.  In the case of sculptor and fashion designer Karen Garrett, nothing could be further from the truth.  Her work is as unique as it is staggering, void of imitation and filled with the vulnerabilities of any highly sensitive artist.  Hers is a cardboard world in the most literal sense.  Utilizing cardboard in her sculpture is beyond sheer genius, it is revolutionary and daring in a genre where compromise and conformity are the dominant themes.

Her fashion designs draw extensively on her intimate knowledge of the human body. She chooses fabrics with a heightened sense of "touchabiliity." Natural blends of cotton and civil war era weaves provide a unique contrast which seems familiar, but somehow is unfamiliar. Its her skillful use of this unique juxtaposition of fabric weights and sculptural forms that accentuates the human form and flatters the wearer. Her designs defy mainstream fashion convention and are always unmistakenly "Garrett."

Karen Garrett is most frequently praised for revolutionizing large- scale contemporary monumental sculpture, by expanding its traditional medium from stone, steel or bronze to encompassing resin-impregnated cardboard. However, Garrett's contribution extends well beyond the boundaries of both this genre and even the field of monumental art; her achievements have influenced contemporary art in general. Garrett deserves credit (The Menil Collection conservators) for establishing cardboard as an accepted vehicle for installation and environmental art, beginning in the late twentieth century and continuing today.

A prodigious artist whose significant work seeks to balance content with the translucent and organic properties of her medium, Garrett began experimenting with this medium at a time when no permanent examples of large-scale monumental sculptures had been wrought in cardboard. A student of fashion design at the University of Oklahoma in the early 1980's, she became captivated with sculpting. She transferred into OU's fine arts program. After earning her degree in painting, she went on to the University of Houston and earned her masters in sculpting. It was there, as a masters student, she first explored cardboard as a legitimate sculpture medium after winning the prestigious juried Houston Art Park commission for the 1992 LANDscapes, Houston International Festival, Diverse Works, Houston Grant Award competition.

  Garrett’s work is highly personal yet far from self-indulgent.  It appears to come from the deepest recesses of the soul.  Her work transcends the novelties and feckless trends of the modern art world.  It is alternately provocative and mesmerizing, even when viewed by the layman.  Sculpture today, while impressive in size and magnitude, is often devoid of spirit.  Garrett’s work forces her audience to react and demands the eye and mind to connect at all times.  She does not allow the viewer to exist in any comfort zone because her work manages to represent a wealth of emotions.  Where there is pain, there is also hope.  Where there is near-defeat, there is never bankruptcy of spirit.  Spirit.  Most of all, it is the human spirit that drives her work.  Thus, you will find neither grandiose elements nor technophiliac aspects in her work.  What you will find is an unrelenting passion and uncommon dedication to the human experience, with all its blemishes and scars quite intact.  This is what separates Garrett’s work from categorization, this is what makes her work landmark.  The power of any piece is found in the delicate marriage of both style and substance.  Garrett has made that marriage work.  This, in itself, is no small accomplishment.  One need only view “The Headless Man” or “The Female Matador” as proof positive.

  Post modernism?  Retro-humanism?  New Humanist Movement?  The Passional Movement!  Perhaps there is counterbalance to the over-synthesized and generic representations of the modern art world.  Artists such as Garrett may indeed manage to awaken the senses and arouse the sensibilities of the (establishment??)  Without passion, the artist becomes servant to a cold and sanitized public that he has oddly enough helped to create.  The Passional Movement is long overdue.  The Passional refuses to compromise and wilt to the demands that are the order of the times.  He or she draws no influences that come from outside the realm of the human spirit.  Within this realm, there can be no boundaries.

 

Adapted from an Essay by Charles T. Rulander II

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