A Visit to Mary Jo Karimnia's Studio


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I recently stopped by Mary Jo Karimnia's painting studio, a cement-floored building that backs up against the Cooper-Young railroad tracks and houses several Midtown artists. You might recognize Karimnia's work from last summer's Five-in-One Steamroller Printmaking day (her mammoth woodcut features a woman wearing stripey knee socks) or from the Cleveland Street Flea Market, where she helps craft displays. Mary Jo's current group of beaded paintings and tie-dyed woodcuts seem at home next to her studio mate Mark Nowell's half-assembled and colorful scrap metal sculptures.

Karimnia, who recently received an ArtsMemphis ArtsAccelerator grant, has been at work on the series of beaded paintings (most of which depict women in historical costume) for several months. The work is painstaking— she uses thousands of tiny "seed beads" to make each piece— but feels playful. Commenting on her preference for work that is bright and synthetic, Mary Jo told me, "I can't stop. I can't help it!"

She took a few minutes to speak with me about her work and upcoming shows.


Flyer: I see that you have this giant woodcut over here from last summer's Five-In-One Steamroller printmaking day.
Mary Jo: Yes! We're going to do that again on the same weekend this year— labor day weekend. I have a lot of drawings to use right now... I have a lot of stripey legs.

Where do you source your images from?
A lot of them are from anime and manga conventions… my daughter likes to go. Some of them are at the Hyatt Hotel, where the have this really horrible, fabulous, funky carpet that I really like.

It looks like casino carpeting… yellow, brown, green.
Totally. It is really ugly in person but it comes off really well in the work…. Sometimes I'll also take photos at Day of the Dead Fest, but this wood cut is based on a series that I did from a Con at the Botanic Garden. Over the last year, I took a bunch of pictures and I have kind of run out. I've just drawn them all up.

Are you looking for different things in your work now than when you started this series?
It has kind of evolved into this fancy dress kind of thing. What I am really striving for is the contrast between the fancy historical dress and the contemporary setting. I took this image at a Day of the Dead Festival in an old mall. There is this man hugging [a woman in historical dress] who is just wearing a sweatshirt. That is kind of what I strive for.


How did you get started working with the beads?
I used to do a lot of mosaic work and I started using the seed beads to grout… I like the way light reflects off different sorts of beads. Another of my goals is to get this different sort of texture. [pointing to an unfinished piece] This is my experimental one. I am gonna ruin this one. That is my plan.

I heard you're about to be in a group show with other female artists?
A couple, actually. Elizabeth Alley is doing a show; it is June the 6th at Marshall Arts and it is called "This Art Has Cooties." It is all women whose work is feminine and who Elizabeth feels don't get the attention they deserve. I also happen to be getting ready to do the "Unchained" show, which is the second in a series. I had the first one in this studio space last year. It's where I invite the first artist and they invite the next artist and it self curates, up to eight artists. It just happened to work out that that show is all women, too. That show opens June 13th.

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