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 Carolyn Young Hisel  (1942 - )

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Lived/Active: Kentucky/New York      Known for: surrealist narrative figure, genre, interior and still life painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Carolyn Young Hisel (b. 1942) is a native of Lexington, Kentucky, where she has chosen to live for most of her life. Her family lived with her paternal grandparents and her Grandmother, a skillful artist, encouraged Carolyn to draw and paint at an early age. Her years before college were spent lost in admiration for the realistic, descriptive paintings done in previous centuries, her Grandmother Young's influences.

Her greatest influence during her four years at the University of Kentucky was a painter from New York named Frederic Thursz and she remembers those days as being something like living through a train wreck, as his passion for abstract expressionism and the power of contemporary painting came to her mind with shattering impact.

Debates about art theory and frequent museum trips roiled through those formative years and Carolyn came to respect modern art and to love the freedom of expression found there. Briefly she questioned her ability to be an artist outside of New York, and away from all that was happening in the art world there. Finally however, she found that she was unhappy unless she was painting, and unhappy away from home, so after settling down in Lexington again with her husband and two sons, her work began to explore the territory between abstraction and depiction, and the two influences have persisted throughout her career.

In her paintings, as you see here, abstraction is usually 'figurative' - or suggests the figure or the landscape, while her descriptive or narrative work is usually heavily flavored with the abstract.

Her work during the seventies and eighties was shown in many southeastern galleries and she won numerous awards and regional competitions, but preferring a quiet life in recent years she has focused on working steadily toward yearly gallery shows.

What the Critics Say

"It is certainly true that Hisel has learned her craft well. But the importance of her work can only be explained, perhaps in terms of content. At a time when visual narrative has been devalued beyond belief, Hisel seems to be a brave soul, holding the line with dynamic emotional tableaux, rooted in a mystical reality...Poetic is the only word for these works."
David Minton, DIALOGUE: Arts in the Midwest Jan/Feb 1995

"The pictures here radiate a peculiar, mysterious quality...where the now and the before, and possibly the future, seem to coexist in the same mutual space...Hisel's work is pleasurably ponderable, and well worth a trip to see."
Kate Dobbs Ariail, The Independent Weekly, Raleigh, N.C.

"Modest in scale, beautifully designed and crafted, Hisel's narrative investigations into the psycho aesthetics of solitude, and even spirituality, are among the most tasteful, articulate, elegiac, poignant, and exquisite one is likely to see in a very, very, long time."
Daniel Brown, Art Academy News, Cincinnati Art Museum

"Carolyn Hisel's paintings serve as thin windowpanes between the realms of place and placelessness, moment and timelessness, dream and life. Often it's difficult to tell which side of the window you're standing on. Combining the infinitely deep colors of an Appalachian autumn with wallpaper echoes of central Kentucky's Victorian past, her canvases bespeak the quietly verdant beauty of her world, even when the frame is confined within a single room. Yet where else do we find that room so curiously off kilter, that meadow sliced in half, that bottomless pond across which the yearning soul rows so hopefully? Like Turner before her, Hisel shows us places we've only dreamed we could see; and those places, we see ourselves in her figures, lost yet hopeful, straining at the windowpane."
Joe Nickell, The Missoulian

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Biography from B. Deemer Gallery:
Carolyn Hisel creates work that focuses on centralized characters, and develops stories from their interactions with their environment. Her paintings hold surrealist scenarios painted with a realist approach that lends them to more subtle interpretations, where, as she puts it, "?the people quietly come face to face with mortality; with possibility, with epiphany, or with one of the insoluble puzzles that confront us as we travel this world."

Carolyn Hisel is a native of Lexington, Kentucky, and has had over twenty solo exhibitions, including a retrospective held at Lexington's Headley-Whitney Museum in 1989. Her work has received various awards, including a Museum Purchase Award from the Owensboro Mid-States Competition, and an Al Smith Fellowship Award from the Kentucky Art Council.

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