Here at Rare Device, we have been long time admirers of Carissa Potter, the miraculous mind behind People I’ve Loved. Her stationery, paintings, and objects evoke a sense of blatant honesty that goes beyond what one usually experiences from these types of work. Harnessing shared experiences, Carissa make us feel like we’re trudging through the hard stuff together. She invited us into her home for an interview to explore her process, her inspiration, and the philosophy behind her work.
Selected work from We Can Go There, Together
As our photographer Dave and I pulled up in front of her summery East Bay home-studio, we were greeted by an 18 year old pup named BB barreling down the front steps. We peeked in the print shop to see one of her teammates using the antique letterpress while Carissa herself came out to welcome us. She gave us a tour, offered us some hibiscus tea, and introduced us to everyone. We then headed to her plant-filled backyard space, waited for the neighbor’s Pomeranian and BB to quiet down, and we started the interview. Here goes.
CB: Tell me about your studio space. How do your surroundings influence or inspire you?
CP: Lately I’ve been thinking that there’s no separation between objects, other beings, and humans so I don't think I can draw the line between where my surroundings end and I begin. This kind of references back to the name of my business. I think if i was doing it over I’d be like, “All Living Things I’ve Loved.” Acknowledging the role of chance and environment in your work is something I really like to think about. I started really getting into plants and I think about my conversations with them as a meditative practice. Also recently I’ve been trying to figure out how they’re trying to communicate with me. I read this article talking about how plants respond differently depending on what color you’re wearing, or if they’re thirsty, or what time of day it is, and it’s sort of interesting thinking about these other forms of intelligence and how we can maybe explore them together.
Tools of the letterpress trade
Carissa's desk and inspiration
Antique Chandler & Price Letterpress she uses to print cards and prints
CB: I love the name People I’ve Loved, can you tell me the significance?
CP: I loved that it was nostalgic for the past and there was this sweetness, but also there was something bitter about it, or like acknowledging the loss or the inherent contradictions in love and memory and that’s kind of where it came from.
More recently when I thought about the accumulation of style and knowledge and the priority that I’ve given people that I’ve respected and loved, they’re inherently in whatever I make. It happens in this way that I’ve found really entertaining these days, but there’s not a really specific rationale for it. I think in the beginning, I saw the greeting cards as performance art pieces where you could sort of facilitate this conversation where the people would love each other. You would come into this space both knowing that you’re coming from a good place and you’re just trying to get on the same page because communication is radically difficult.
CB: Your website says you intend to facilitate the communication between real, tactile people vs our digital selves. What does "realness" mean to you?
CP: My jury’s out on that question and I don’t know if in the future it will matter. I think that for me, I really want to believe that there’s the multi-sensory, complicated way that we experience existing not digitally. It’s still worth something to me. I definitely spend a tremendous amount of time on my phone or computer, but I try really hard to take a sabbath or reprioritize. Right now I’m trying to prioritize my real relationships over my hours on social media to be able to figure out that I’m not really getting anything from the social media. It’s very entertaining, but I don’t really feel this reciprocal connection in the same way that sitting here with you kind of fulfills that deep longing to be understood and feel connected to other people. That being said, I just finished this book by Virginia Heffernan called Magic and Loss and in it she talks about how we’re losing our senses. She speculates that in the future we’ll only have hearing and vision. I think that in the last 10 years I’ve put way less emphasis on physical sensory information. I think that in the translation from real to digital and digital to real I think that there’s something amazing happening, but I that there’s validity to go back to the human to human, touch and smell each other kind of thing. I think that in a way technology is trying to take away all of the gross things about humans like sweatiness, hairiness, or stinky breath. Your phone never stinks back at you. How do we appreciate those human, animal things that we have?
CB: Your work often focuses on self-care and mental health. Can you tell me more about that aspect? Why do you think this is an important subject to shine a light on?
CP: I think that one of my strengths is not having any tact. I really have a lot of faith that our feelings are more universal than we think that they are, and it’s been my experience that every time I’m going through something and it feels really unique and strong and overwhelming in my head, that someone else is going through it too. There’s this collective consciousness. I think that there’s some real comfort in accessing or sharing those feelings. We’re in this culture of productivity and efficiency, and it’s just nice to acknowledge the role that self-care plays in being able to do those things. Sometimes the most efficient way doesn’t always mean it’s the best way. A lot of people deal with mental illness in different ways and I feel like this is one of the first times that we’ve been able to acknowledge it publicly with less stigma than in the past. So why wouldn’t we want to explore our brains as an organ and the thought patterns that are passed on from generation to generation?
We moved from the sunny backyard to the shady front porch to protect my lily-white skin.
CB: I feel bad now, putting this phone in between us after you talked about realness.
CP: Don’t feel bad. I’m also cool with you not feeling bad about anything.
CB: You often engage with your social media followers by sharing feelings, coping mechanisms and other thoughts back and forth. How does their feedback inspire you?
CP: It comforts me that other people feel the same way and it’s also nice to know that if you’re thinking about these weird things that other people are thinking about weird things, all at the same time. I think most of the time when I post, I definitely look at the comments, think about them, and probably incorporate them a lot. I think that we’re lucky to have a sounding board for ideas. To have people come back with any interest or any comments is really wonderful. People say a lot of really awesome, meaningful things that they try to do to be sane and exist in the world. A specific instance was when we were talking about moon calendars and someone suggested doing period calendars and I never would have thought of it. I think that having this multiplicity of viewpoints is really important and I feel really lucky. Even though I was talking smack about social media, I feel really lucky to be able to have those types of connections with people that I don’t necessarily know all that much about, yet we’re able to harness our collective experience together. I feel comfortable when I’m a participant and not just a viewer. I would assume, too, that the reason I post has become almost an addiction, in some way, to combat these feelings of worthlessness or loneliness. So, to have other people interact it’s a way for me to legitimize my feelings.
A new loose-leaf book called Psychic Plants
CB: Where is your favorite place to go to find inspiration?
CP: I’ve been really into the pool lately. I’ve been having joint problems from running and exercising, but when you go to the pool, you don’t have any joint issues. I go to a saltwater pool and it’s always sunny and the water is super clear and wonderful and a nice temperature. I think of it kind of as a spiritual experience. Also, the shower, my plants, pop psychology books, and also I go to friends a lot. When you’re trying to understand what someone else is going through, exploring that with them generates a lot of work, too. I worked on this last project about a book on leaving people as a form of love. I had this friend who was going on lots of dates. It started from a terrible line that somebody gave her which was, “Whatever it is that makes people want to stick through the hard times, I don’t feel that for you.” I thought that there was something sort of insane and beautiful and also, let’s explore that feeling and why do we, beyond circumstance and ease of relationships, stay with the people we’re with. When you’re really close with someone, it’s a way to relate. It’s terrible and lovely in the way that you empathize deeply and try to figure out what to do to solve their problems, not that they’re solvable, and I think that it makes for a good conversation.
CB: Can you tell me about any recent collaborations you've done? What do you enjoy about working alongside another artist?
CP: Are all works kind of collaborations or are all works not collaborations? It depends on my mood. I’m kind of interested in this idea of accepting contradictions in life existing simultaneously. It’s really fun to work with other people, especially people that you want to get close to and that you really love and respect their work. It also forces you to spend time with them. With one of my more recent collaborations with Kate Pruitt, we did these boxes, and it was like we were able to make time to sit and talk about our lives while working with clay, and there was something insanely therapeutic about that. With Mie Morgenson we would talk and draw at the same time, in the same space, and every now and then we would look over and instead of, you know how you’re working with other people and traditionally for me it’s been, “Oh mine sucks. I should just stop.” With Mia we would look over and say, “Oh they look so beautiful together!” and force ourselves to bask in the glory of the other person’s drawing. If someone else that you really love and respect wants to be there with you, then I feel like this is a worthy pursuit somehow that I couldn’t just give myself on my own. After we really embraced that, a sort of melding of styles happened. Normally it’s like, “Don’t draw a pot like that because I draw a pot like that,” but for us it was like, “Oh my gosh I love your pot. I’m going to put that over here.” It was like a compliment and it was wonderful and real. It was nice. As the month progressed, our styles came together in this way that was really positive and affirming and not protective or jealous, but more like, “This is amazing to have this time and the meaning of it be recorded visually.”
Selected work from We Can Go There, Together
CB: Do you have any exciting new or upcoming projects you'd like to tell people about?
CP: There are a few things. I got really lucky to be able to do some drawings for The Color Factory and work with Leah Rosenberg on that. I’m really excited about that and I feel really lucky to have been a part of it. The other thing is that I have another book coming out soon. Also, Mel Day is curating a show at Root Division and I’m doing some choir performances for the show. I really enjoy singing in public with other people. We’re going to build a sound booth so people can sing pop songs in public by themselves. The other people in the show have really awesome projects, too. The booth is going to be shared with another artist who does art therapy sessions and there will be a bunch of other really amazing things going on. I’m really excited about it.
Originally from Minneapolis, Carissa Potter lives and works in Oakland, California. Her prints and small-scale objects reflect her hopeless romanticism through their investigations into public and private intimacy. Speaking both humorously and poignantly to the human condition, Carissa's work touches chords we all can relate to - exploring situations we've all experienced at some point in our lives and conveying messages we simply long to hear. Carissa Potter is a founding member of Colpa Press and founder of People I’ve Loved. Since 2010, she has been an artist in residence at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, where she teaches letterpress. She also serves as a mentor in Southern Exposure’s One-on-One Mentor-ship Program. She finished her first book with Chronicle books in 2015 titled "I like you, I love you." in 2016, Carissa was an artist in residence at Facebook. Carissa received her MFA in Printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2010. Currently she is working on being a better listener and her second book, titled "You Will Feel Better."
Selected prints, books, cards, pins, and other objects from her line are available at Rare Device, Noe Valley.
All photos by Dave Medal