Carolyn DiFiori Hopkins
Carolyn DiFiori Hopkins was born in 1958 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was raised in Philadelphia and Haddon Heights, New Jersey. She received her MFA from the State University of New York at Albany and has most recently taught at UAlbany. Her work has been exhibited widely. She lives in the Eagle Hill section of Albany, New York with a studio in Troy, NY.
Could you please describe who you are, where are you from and what is your relationship to Anthropocene?
I grew up in Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, as the daughter of teachers. My father was a biology teacher with master’s in biology and psychology. His influence on me regarding the environment, ecology, preservation of species, animal husbandry and the study of botany were major influences on me throughout my formative years and into adulthood. I was fortunate to study at what was then Philadelphia College of Art (now, The University of the Arts) during a radical time for art, the mid 1970’s. I was heavily influenced by the Land Art Movement work by Robert Simpson and his Spiral Jetty, also Christo and Jeanne-Claude. As a student I was making black and white photos reminiscent of Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) and Marina Abramovic referencing Relation in Space and White Robe I and II. With the birth of land art, nature was no longer just a setting, but it was yet another subject which I could inject into my art making. My interest in land art never waned, even through my MFA experience.
What type of setting do you prefer to work in? What type of location? Day or night?
I prefer a naturally well-lit studio of rugged space where I can use materials without restraint. When painting I often start with direct pours of defused acrylic paint onto canvas or other surfaces. I turn paintings as I work on them, which requires space. I have been fortunate to have studios where I could do such. Currently, due to the Covid-19 isolation I am in a relatively small studio in the basement of my apartment building with only one small window. My largest paintings to date are about 73×73 inches. When I first started working in my now more contained space, I felt I should make smaller work and make a few 36×36 inch canvasses, which I do continue to make. I recently spent a considerable amount of time refitting this small space to be able to accommodate larger work. There’s an anteroom where I can do pours and turn canvasses. While I’m painting on stretched canvasses now, I’m probably going to start working on un-stretched fabric. I have a roll of aircraft fabric left over from an installation sculpture that I’ll be using at some point to paint on. I like the translucency of this fabric. I’m in the process of adding overhead fixtures with daylight bulbs in the space. I prefer to work in my basement-dweller studio during the day. I only have a small space heater in there, and it can be very cold and damp. It also isn’t a well-ventilated space. In a way, studio limits have forced me to be less spontaneous with the work. I am also starting a series of plaster sculptures that I’m making in my kitchen.
What is it in art that brings you the most joy?
I consider myself a cross-disciplinary artist. I’m at my best when my attention is fully focused on what I’m making. When I’m completely absorbed, I’m more spiritually connected to the work /medium and oblivious to any distractions. That is when the best moments occur. I’m focused on the task at hand in these mindful moments. Time seems to stand still. I feel this more so during this current period, where I often have no real sense of day or time. While in a flow state, I lose a lot of self-consciousness where I am more able to tap into my more creative mind.
The Anthropocene topic is very broad. What aspects of Anthropocene are you mainly focusing on with your artwork?
Yes, it is a very broad topic. In my work I try to capture through an abstracted lens some of our human signature, and to convey the complexity and significance of the Anthropocene age. There is a drama occurring between nature and people in the Anthropocene. This period during which human activities have had a brutal environmental impact on the earth is a distinct geological age. Clearly more and more scientific date points to the human negative impact on the planet. That impact on the planet is vast and multifaceted. The covid-19 pandemic is a clear example of not only how humans have abused the planet, but also hopefully serves as a wake-up call. Natural heals itself. We can see this as we witness lower levels of pollution in all regards across the planet as factory emissions diminish, carbon dioxide levels fall, and the rewilding of species occurs. We as humans must stop destroying our environment. I have been most moved by reports of animals who have been able to roam freely with no threat of man and captive animals being able to successfully breed because they are less stressed by visitors in zoos. This global emergency reminds us of the fragility of the earth and of how quickly nature can renew when the threat of human civilization is taken out of the factor.
Do you feel that, through your art, you are making a stand against the ecological and environmental problems? Do you think that you help to raise awareness for the topic?
I do feel that my work is a stand against ecological and environmental problems. The transient nature of the figures in my paintings and photographs include human and animal forms. Through translucency and abstraction, I hope I convey both fragility and strength at the same time. I give much consideration to my role as an artist and what I choose to portray in my work. I ask myself, how can I as an artist in all good faith not attempt to use my work to make a statement?
When did you make your first Anthropocene artwork? By whom or what was it inspired?
In 2016 I had a very small curatorial role as part of a seminar project at the University of Albany Museum for an exhibit titled Future Perfect, Picturing the Anthropocene. The exhibit honed from the Museum’s permanent collection brought together a crisscross of visual artists from multiple disciplines whose work points to the body of scientific evidence indicating that human beings are the prime drivers of global environmental change and explored our conflicted relationship to the natural world.
This is when I first considered the Anthropocene in my own art through a series of photographs that I began in 2016 and continue making today. I’ve taken thousands of photos of the Hudson, Mohawk, Susquehanna and Chemung river areas, roads, bridges and buildings of New York State as well as photographs recording my daily life. In these intentionally blurred landscapes, buildings, waterways, interiors and self-portraits I try to depict the human-built world in juxtaposition to the natural environment. Since Covid-19, I have continued this series in a study of self-portraits: shots taken through car windows and studio shots. My photographic documentation of myself in my studio is a diary of confinement with intentional refractive errors made in dank space. I also continue making large scale drawings and paintings referencing animal and human form in an apocalyptic world.
Keeping the Anthropocene in mind, where do you think humans and earth will be in 10 years? Do you hink there will be improvements?
I fear that little will be learned from our current pandemic and that without careful consideration of science we will automatically fall back into our old habits. This epoch and these “spillover” events are a significant and growing threat to global health, global economies and global security. This is not the first pandemic, nor will it be the last. We must respect the natural world including closing live animal markets that sell wildlife, strengthening efforts to combat trafficking of wild animals within countries and across borders, and working to change dangerous wildlife consumption behaviors. Saving wildlife and wild places, can reduce the transmission of zoonoses as the public begins to absorb this new word into their vocabulary. Rewilding must occur on a broad-scale basis in order to restore and protect species allowing species to self-regulate with no human interference with near pre-human levels of biodiversity.
On your website you shared pictures of your COVID-19 shelter. Do you think the situation has influenced your work in a positive way? Did it increase your creativity maybe? If not, could you elaborate?
I do feel that the current situation has enhanced my creativity and my thinking. I have in many ways been relieved of a schedule that took me out of my home and studio much too frequently. I have been thinking about how to keep some of this newfound freedom as we move forward in the post-pandemic world.
While I do miss my social life as an artist, I wonder how the art world has changed, and how we now make art. I’m very curious to see how art will change compared to before. Will we return to holding art openings as we know them? Will we socially distance ourselves out of what we have known and into a more virtual realm? I think the most important thing is to keep making regardless. I also feel tasked with documenting this extraordinary moment on earth. As contemporary artist I feel that this is our moment in time: our magnum opus.
I cannot say that my statement has changed since the pandemic struck. My imagery is always connected to something visual from the real world, coupled with abstraction observed from an apocalyptic point of view referencing climate change, technology, oppression, migration and borders. The contrasts of weight and buoyancy/solidity and transparency are the properties I have used to define this recent work. At the same time there is exploration, a sense of movement and life, of natural light, contour and volume. The intent is to pose questions while intentionally providing few answers in a provocative didactic manner. Meant to be evocative this work reflects the trouble we are in today, and where we may be going in the future. I attempt to convey representational forms that relate to the tangible world while creating an aesthetic experiential space in an environment that tries to live in harmony against a brutally built human-made environment.
What I do think has changed is how others perceive me and my work in that maybe the perception is that of she knew what she was talking about. I’ve been harping on environment issues that my father drilled into my head, for what seems like my whole adult life. My greatest hope is that we move forward with a real understanding of how fragile life is on this planet, and how our time here is only fleeting.
Carolyn DiFiori Hopkins
April 28, 2020
Works of the artist
Work in Progress May 2020 Oil, Mixed Media Covid-19 Shelter in Place Studio Albany, New YorkOther works of the artist
PPE: Boundedness March 2020 Decay Enforced Oil, Mixed Media 12X12 inchesOther works of the artist
Future Lonely Tree Anthropocene Stockbridge, Massachusetts October 2017 Silver Gelatin PrintOther works of the artist
Substratum 2019, Opalka Gallery The Russell Sage Colleges, Albany, NY Substratum is a collaborative sculptural work by artists Medina, Bauer, and DiFiori Hopkins. Segments of concrete rubble, wire, and related materials are arranged beneath a collection of tensile...