How Artist Carissa Potter of People I’ve Loved Captures Our Hearts and the Human Condition

Shit doesn’t have to make sense. It’s okay to feel things deeply. You are not an imposter, you are for real. Kick jealousy in the butt.

Carissa Potter doesn’t make typical greeting cards, and that’s why people relate to them. The artist behind People I’ve Loved has garnered a loyal following for her honest and sometimes chuckle-inspiring prints and small-scale objects that poignantly illustrate the bittersweetness of the human condition.

Originally from Minneapolis, Carissa lives and works in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. She received her MFA in Printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2010 and since then she has been an artist in residence at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, where she teaches letterpress. She finished her first book with Chronicle Books in 2015 titled “I like you, I love you”. Here’s an inside look into her studio with photographer Nicola Parisi, and a chat about her investigations of intimacy and art.

On your website you describe People I’ve Loved as a few human beings “in search of the miraculous yet tragic definition of what it means to exist, in this time and space.” Can you explain that more?

I think it’s about dialectic tension, feeling extreme opposing emotions at the same moment. It’s not a new hunt, humans crave making things with meaning, in a way in which we’ll never have the answers. I hate the word journey, it’s overused these days, but the work is about trying to figure out what the real is.

What are some of the things you learned while writing your book about love?

I feel skeptical about love, and I definitely don’t believe in soulmates. I think I’m going to argue that within reason we should be happy with who we are with, or stick with it. I think there’s an algorithmic quality to relationships. Helen Fisher has a quote: when people ask if demystifying love makes it unromantic, she says something about how knowing what’s in a chocolate cake doesn’t make tasting it any less magical. I think there are lots of people we can be happy with, and lots of ways to make it work.

“When I say faith, I don’t necessarily mean it in a spiritual way, but logically it would seem if I’m human and I’m making things there should be another human that’s interested in what I’m making.”

Your work feels pretty universal to the human experience, how do you see your art in relation to place? Does being in the Bay Area have any influence?

I think that I can’t be separated from this environment, consciously or subconsciously, and not even stylistically. I recently spent a month on a residency with a friend and we eventually embraced the co-mingling of our artistic styles and I think it’s a natural embrace and conversation. Not to bring up Elizabeth Gilbert, but she talks about how ideas are out there swirling around and they don’t belong to anyone until they find human partners. The Bay Area has a long tradition with figurative work and painting, and I very much believe if I wasn’t living in Oakland I would probably not be doing things like driving a Prius, and I would probably be making different work. I don’t like to admit that because I think people want to say that there’s something innately unique about their work, but I’m not sure if there is.

There’s a theme about dealing with fears and confidence issues in your work, and it definitely gets a lot of response from other creatives. What’s your best advice to an artist when they are facing self-doubt?

It’s hard because it would depend on the person. I think just to do it. For me personally there’s a strong history of mental health issues in my family and I’ve not conquered feeling good about where I am. It’s a balancing act of confidence and extreme self-doubt, and the more you go for it, there’s even more to do. In terms of practical advice, I would say you have to figure out a way to promote yourself. And have faith that there’s someone for everyone and there’s someone that’s going to relate to what you’re doing. And when I say faith, I don’t necessarily mean it in a spiritual way, but logically it would seem if I’m human and I’m making things there should be another human that’s interested in what I’m making.

Note: While we just interviewed Carissa, she was quick to point out that People I’ve Loved has grown thanks to a number of people: Heather Brock, Loretta Haskell, Emily Gui, Amy Burek, Al Huron, Eoin Guidas, Kate Pruitt, Grace Johnson, Keeley McSherry and her partner, Josh Keller.

Visit the People I’ve Loved profile.

Thanks to Nicola Parisi for the photos in this piece. Nicola is a freelance photographer and graphic designer based in San Francisco. Over the last year, she has particularly enjoyed documenting people in their homes and studios – spaces that show a lot of character and enable people to be most at ease. When she’s not behind the camera or computer, you’ll usually find her making jewelry, refurbishing skateboards, cooking without recipes, riding her bike, or making chocolate from scratch.

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