Critics’ Picks

Maren Karlson, No Longer a Friend, Master, Slave, 2017, colored pencil on paper, 16 1/2 x 12".

New York

Maren Karlson

Interstate Projects
66 Knickerbocker Avenue
May 19 - June 18

Slitted eyes and jagged flames gleam in lurid magentas and chilly violets, lighting a path both sensual and sinister in Maren Karlson’s crepuscular compositions. Mixing exacting geometries with cartoonish illustration, these drawings, paintings, and ceramic works often follow a bald figure draped in silken robes through swoony, dreamlike landscapes. Charmed with the mysticism of an invented iconography, Karlson’s images suggest occult ritual. In No Longer a Friend, Master, Slave (all works cited, 2017), the central character reenacts what seem to be ancient origin stories—she makes herself over in sweat and moist clay. Open depicts what might be a kneeling kouros, offering himself upon a triangular altar alongside a rose-tipped pyramid and a lily. In a fluid exchange between body, sacrament, and environment, Karlson unravels our sense of material stability.

We see the central character’s features iterated across myriad surfaces—eyes patterned onto the tongue of a rolled carpet in Her Vault, or glinting across the nail of an outstretched hand in My Realm. Drawn demons walk as earth, fire, and air through the heart of a pulsating, animate landscape, flexing and formatting their skins to new shapes. Summoned to life by these drawings and their three-dimensional kin, the gallery is activated by surreal possibility; the delicate web that is drawn across the center of Trick reappears, in the flesh, stretched across the southeast corner of the room (Untitled), while the stepped architecture of Solitude and Freedom Are the Same shows up as the terraced pedestal upon which Karlson arranges three ceramic figurines. Karlson’s works weigh the parity of promise and foreboding in a nightmarish fluidity.