Deb Karpman:

Deb Karpman

Nothing if Not Intimate

By Brett Levine, Photo by Jerry Siegel

Deb Karpman’s works are nothing if not intimate. Her small-scale collages explore the intersections between the handmade, the found object and the capacity to transform the familiar into the complex. “I like materials that are ubiquitous, throwaway, everyday objects,” she says. “I work with a range of paper-based items, including maps, field guides, posters and wallpaper, and I think of them as things that I can put back into circulation,” she laughs.

Her approach involves constantly reinterpreting and reinventing images through the repetitive use of those images and motifs. “I am very interested in repetition,” she explains. “I think of the materials I use in their raw forms like they were undifferentiated atoms, things that have to be combined to reveal their true uses.”

In series such as “Phoenix,” she plays with the pictorial and grammatical meanings of the word. Her works rise like a Phoenix from the ashes, their found materials finding a new life arranged carefully on the paper.  Formally, the works in “Phoenix” play with the colors of fire, their bright oranges and hints of red suggesting the mythical creature’s flight.

“I often work in series, which allow me to create pieces that share similar forms but stand as unique reiterations of the idea,” Karpman says. She considers each work to be an exploration of both form and concept, and the relationships between the collaged materials and the grounds create a tension she desires. “I try not to fill up the space visually,” Karpman explains, “but I am constantly rethinking the ways this process works. I try to imagine that the works are comprised of odd elements that coexist rather than layers that are piled one on top of another.”

Viewers often search for repeated patterns that might reveal representational elements, but Karpman stresses that this element simply is not there. “I work in a way that sometimes a series’ shared element almost becomes a pattern, but I never let it devolve into a system,” she says. “I want the works to remain abstract, but to have the suggestion of definable  references.” Karpman describes the tensions between complex pattern and repetition represented in collaged paper as being a sort of hybrid between the archaic and the technological.


Despite the materials and methods Karpman uses, she does not categorize herself as a specific type of artist. “I don’t really think of myself as a collagist, because I don’t see my work as necessarily being media-specific,” she says. “Instead, I use a range of arts practices and methods depending on the specific needs of the work.”

For now, her works focus extensively on collage practices, and the processes of selecting materials are the key to her thinking. “It is important that I cut the materials up,” she says, “because I like the idea that I learn the shape of the object. I notice that as I continue working on a particular piece my ability to cut it out gets better.” This “evidence of the handmade,” as Karpman describes it, highlights the process of collage. She notes that, just as the imperfections on a piece of found paper show the history of the paper itself, the processes of selecting, cutting and re-configuring paper shows the evidence of both her thought processes in conceiving each work and the physical processes of making it.

“In the end,” Karpman says, “I want viewers’ expectations to be ruptured by these works.  I want them to represent a broader metaphor of uncertainty and fragility.” More important, she wants to take viewers on a journey. “It’s like taking viewers on an excursion where we go somewhere that is semi-recognizable,” she says. “In the end, it’s simply a process of using different strategies for creating differing worlds.”

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