1947 | American

Exuberant, bohemian artist Karen Shapiro lives and works in Gulalala, California, a tiny hamlet on America’s beautiful Redwood Coast north of San Francisco.

Fittingly, it is in this town, with its funky/artsy vibe that Shapiro has settled in a converted pottery studio to create her larger-than-life ceramic sculptures depicting iconic American products.

When one initially sees Shapiro’s work it is impossible to divorce them from the long line of Pop artists that preceded her (especially the stars of the 60s and 70s like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana and Richard Walker who appropriated recognizable products as the subjects for their art); as well as  puppies or JENK, with her candy-wrapped sculptures.

Yet Shapiro differs from most, if not all of these.

She does not have an ironic, sarcastic nor critical agenda about commercialism with a capital “C”. Her sculpture is created to celebrate the high points in graphic commercial design, and she is unapologetic about the enjoyment she gets doling out pure nostalgia to an ever-growing, dedicated cadre of collectors.

When asked about her art, Shapiro answers:  “I have been asked to write about my work. This will be short and devoid of “artspeak”. My mission is to make work which adds a bit of whimsy and smiles to my customers’ lives while making a living for myself.

My work is pop art; ceramic sculptures of articles which apply to everyday life from the past to the present. The range is wide, from food products and beverages to cosmetics to automobilia just to name a few. The work speaks for itself. It is all larger than life in size and easily understandable.


Starbucks Coffee Cup

34 x 24 x 23 cm | Raku Ceramic

My process involves hand-built pieces constructed from slabs. There are three firings: bisque fire and glaze fire in an electric kiln, then a final raku firing to yield the crackles and metallic finishes I use. I work with a LOT of color using commercial underglazes and glazes for the first glaze-firing. For the raku firing, I mix my own glazes for the “special effects” like bright silver metal and rusty metals. Everything is done by hand, I use no decals or other “shortcuts”, which makes the work very labor-intensive. This pretty much explains it! Hope you enjoy my work.”

Her oversized sculpture pays homage – and is presented in sculpture that is usually three or four times as large as the original product packaging. In some, her aim is to create as true to a perfect replica as she can. In others, if she believes it will enhance the “vintage” feel of a piece – occasionally she adds a crackle glaze.

She is however, not indiscriminate with regard to her preferences. Although she has created pieces with recent references including Prozac capsules and pints of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, she posits, probably correctly, that product design and graphics from the 1930s through the 1960s were special.

Cheaper materials and artists who today turn up their noses at doing the commercial work; the work real artists used to do to pay the rent (remember Andy Warhol began his career drawing shoe advertisements) just doesn’t happen anymore, she laments.

“Everything today is so ugly,” she says. “Everything is plastic and blue, red and white. I like to work on products from the Deco or Boomer era.”

And looking at her work one understands why. For example, some of her favorites are ones that strike a chord in the heart of any Baby Boomer.

They include replicas of the original Log Cabin Maple Syrup tin (which actually was a charmingly painted tin log cabin, from which one poured one’s syrup from the chimney!). There is the iconic box of Good & Plenty candy – packaged in its iconic box decorated with pink and white capsule-shaped candies that gives one the feeling that it somehow presaged Damien Hirst’s pill paintings. And finally, there is an original Band-Aid tin from the 1950s, comfortingly decorated with a perfect housewife/mother replete with pearls and a push-up bra, an image that makes one smile, recalling a far more innocent era.

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