Carmichael's Art at Local Gallery

By Kurt Nesbitt, Journal Staff Writer

Charis Carmichael says she didn't always believe art was a valid path to follow. At one point, she went off to college simply to find a job so she could make money, but as time passed, she found the only classes that she really enjoyed took her down the road to becoming an artist. 

"It wasn't so much a choice of 'What should I be?' but 'What shouldn't I be without?'."

These days, Carmichael works as a photographer and a graphic artist in New Ulm but the images she's hung on the walls of the Kiesling House gallery were made either with oil paints, egg tempera, watercolor or fresco.

Carmichael was a part of two local juried art shows in the past. The last time she showed her work with the Council for the Arts in New Ulm, she promised to bring her paintings. That show opens today. 

Most of what Carmichael does is representational and is painted from photographs, sketches and notes she's made based upon things she's seen. There's one scene that shows Brown County Road 27 as it comes into New Ulm. Another one shows a corn field beyond a gravel road near Amboy and the largest of all her works, called "Near Belle Plain", shows clouds hanging over a field with the sun shining in the distance. 

For her, painting a scene isn't necessarily about reproducing a photograph on canvas but aims instead to bring out the elements that moved her to capture the scene in the first place. Scenes like the ones represented in her paintings are recorded through photographs, sketches or notes, saved for a later date and then revisited before the paint goes on the canvas. She said she finds a sense of control and permanence in representational impressionism. 

Carmichael said she prefers to paint on larger canvasses because they allow for greater detail and get noticed more often. She often builds her own frames and say doing so gives her a greater sense of satisfaction and ownership of the painting. 

She said her favorite works are a still-life she painted during her first year as a student at Bethany Lutheran College, a double-portrait of herself and her boyfriend and "the next one," referring to her future works because "it's going to be better than the ones I have now." 

Like many, Carmichael first discovered art as a child. She credits her older sister, a New Ulm interior decorator, for exposing her to painters like John Singer Sargent, Gustav Klimt and Franklin Carmichael, which she credits for influencing her work. 

In addition to painting, Carmichael takes wedding photographs and is in the process of painting a series of portraits and is designing a 100-page book for the Brown County Historical Society that shows all the historical markers within the county's borders.

CANU Director Marianne Haugen said the group has never had a show that featured only paintings. She said Carmichael's paintings, which span the entirety of her five years as a BLC student, have never been seen in the Kiesling House gallery. Carmichael's show closes on June 13. 

Originally published: Nesbitt, Kurt. “Carmichael’s Art at Local Gallery” New Ulm Journal. 22 May 2004. Print.