Interview with Carol Prusa

I had the awesome opportunity to have a studio visit with Carol Prusa in Boca Raton, Florida, where she lives and works. I was totally drawn to her mesmerizing, meticulous and meditative work that I found to be breathtaking in person.

Prusa exhibits widely in museums and curated exhibitions, both nationally and internationally. Her work is in numerous public collections including the Perez Museum of Art, Spencer Museum of Art, NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Hunter Museum of American Art and Daum Museum of Contemporary Art. Recently, her work was selected by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York for exhibition and was awarded purchase for museum collection. She is also a professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Can you explain the different types of work you are working on in your studio right now? 

I am currently working on some flat panels as well as spheres and hemispheres. My studio work is rotating between making silverpoint spheres with lights for an art fair at Basel Hong Kong in March and work for the Boca Raton Art Museum this summer. I have a commission in the works and flat panels in progress for Brintz Galleries in Palm Beach. And, am constructing several circular panels for a curated show in NYC.

My studio work ranges from work for museum exhibitions to galleries. I keep a number of works in progress because when a layer on one piece needs time to dry, I can turn to another work. Or if I need time to absorb a work and consider how to solve it, I can turn to another piece. I have a lot of tasks to accomplish in my studio and move from work to work all day long, including sanding and gessoing surfaces. At night, I bring a piece into my house and work on it there so I can be closer to my family.

“As an artist you have a responsibility to your art — to make it and get it out there. I am a studio artist and that is where I am best.” ~Carol Prusa

Tell us about your process.

Known for large-scale silverpoint drawing, I initiate a piece with days of hatching marks using silver wire on gessoed surfaces. When the under-drawing is complete I sublimate with graphite and heighten with white acrylic. Sometimes, I add aluminum leaf or employ fiber optics. My work happens in layers and is intricate and rigorous. The early stages can feel like work as I hatch for days. The grounds involve twelve to fifteen layers of gesso — not my favorite part. I am driven to see the piece manifest so am motivated to put in long hours to get it there. I am enamored with painting the white and bringing the work to its finish. That is the bliss phase; where I bring out forms using white paint. It is a process I delight in.

Does being a professor have any influence on your work and does it help in any way with your career as an artist?

Students work in surprising ways keeps my mind open. Articulating my ideas to students helps me process my own thinking. Also, I work to stay current on art for my teaching — particularly painting — through reading about and seeing art.

While I have done public art commissions as well as private commissions and have commercial galleries, I have chosen to primarily support myself and my family through university teaching. Teaching supports me to make the work I want to make, without regard to it selling. This path has allowed me years to develop and deepen my work which helps to pursue my career goal of museum exhibitions and collection.

Aurora, 2015, by Carol Prusa. Silverpoint and graphite with white acrylic on 36” sphere with programmed lights. Copyright © Carol Prusa. Used by permission of the artist.

Aurora, 2015, by Carol Prusa. Silverpoint and graphite with white acrylic on 36” sphere with programmed lights. Copyright © Carol Prusa. Used by permission of the artist.

When your children were young, how did you fit in making the work and teaching?

I stopped keeping my house perfectly tidy and I don’t send Christmas cards. My studio was in my home so I could start a load of laundry or a pot of rice and get back to painting. I set new priorities. When the children were busy or sleeping, I made my work. Some of my work ended up being virtual as there wasn’t time to physically make it, but in my mind I developed it. I became very efficient and focused. I am good at taking advantage of any scrap of time to make my work and that is still true.

I certainly get a lot more done now that they are in college. It was exciting when they left for school and I could really dig into my work — quite exhilarating. I think I may have gone overboard because now I am in my studio pretty much all the time if I am not teaching.

What type of advice would you give to artists who are trying to build their careers?

In a recent graduate class I teach on professional development, we spoke about defining success. The definition of a successful artist can vary widely from individual to individual. If your definition of a successful artist is to show at the Whitney, then look at the artists who have shown there and the track you must take and see if you are willing to do what that takes. If you aren’t willing to do all it takes, drop that definition of success as you will always feel unsuccessful and unhappy. If it is to sell lots of work, look at that model and follow what that takes.

I tell students if they cannot escape being an artist, dig in and trust they will figure out how to pay their bills. If you are an artist, you have to take care of that part of you or you will be intensely unhappy and not good for anyone.

As an artist you have a responsibility to your art — to make it and get it out there. I am a studio artist and that is where I am best. And, like myself, you might be most comfortable in the studio but your art requires you do the work of getting it seen. Forming collectives and exhibiting with a group of like-minded artists can be useful. Make sure you have a solid body of work you are committed to before you send it out for professional review. Give yourself time to develop your work before seeking attention for it.

My major professor for my graduate degree told me she began to make her mature work when she turned 40. I was thankful to hear that because it gave me time to figure my work out and hone the skills necessary to present it in the most compelling form I could. It is okay to not be fully formed at 18 years of age.

“If you are an artist, you have to take care of that part of you or you will be intensely unhappy and not good for anyone.” ~Carol Prusa

What do you have upcoming career wise? 

I have work going to several museum exhibitions this year and I will have solo shows in Taipei, Taiwan and Geneva, Switzerland. I am working on some commissions and producing new work for my galleries. This will be a pretty intensive studio year with some travel. I recently wrote a successful grant proposal to investigate sound in conjunction with my spheres, creating a fresh place to challenge my mind. I try to incorporate into my studio practice experimentation and learning new things so I don’t fall into known patterns of making.

The absence of color in your work intrigues and delights me, was that a conscious choice or did it just evolve?

To me all my grays appear colorful. There are several factors that directed me to the subtle and narrow range of warm and cool greys and whites I work with. I took up silverpoint while living in Italy for a summer, the overwhelming lushness of Florida flora lessoned my need for color when I moved there in 1999 and traumatic events in the world made me question my work causing it to became more reduced and rigorous. I stopped color abruptly in 2001.

What type of music do you listen to in the studio?

I listen to NPR and particularly like Science Friday and The Moth.

You can check out more of Carol’s work on her website carolprusa.com.

Brenda Hope Zappitell creates abstract expressionist works not only born out of intuition but also serendipitously influenced by nature and life experiences. She earned her B.S.W. from Florida State University in 1986 and her J.D. from University of Miami Law School in 1990. Zappitell is mostly self-taught but has attended classes and workshops in New Mexico, Mexico and Florida. She is represented at galleries around the country and has participated in solo and group exhibitions. Her work is in both private and public collections. Visit zappitellstudio.com.

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