Inside Rensselaer
* Caren Canier Paints Images of the Human Experience
“Ulysses” 2009, 40x50” oil with mixed media on panel.
Caren Canier Paints Images of the Human Experience
At an early age, Caren Canier knew that she wanted to be a painter. Her interests in art led her to attend the High School of Music and Art in New York City. Later, Canier attended Cornell University, where she majored in painting, and studied with Gillian Pederson-Krag, a painter known for her lush sense of color and imagery. Taking her academic interest further, Canier made her way to Boston University, where she studied with renowned aexpressionist painter Philip Guston, and James Weeks, a Bay Area painter who was known for his landscapes and figure compositions; there received her MFA in painting.

For 32 years, Canier has been a faculty member at Rensselaer, originally serving as professor of painting, drawing, and 2-D design with a joint appointment in School of Architecture and the Arts Department in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, before moving full-time into the Arts Department.

Canier came to Rensselaer from Rome, Italy, where she had been awarded a Prix de Rome Fellowship in painting in 1978, and spent a year in residence at the American Academy in Rome. “The time that I spent in Rome was not only life-changing, but it has had a profound influence on my work,” said Canier. “Living in Rome and later in Umbria, I developed a fascination for the ancient world and the way in which it remains a visible living presence in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean. I find myself returning to Italy as often as I can.”

Today, much of Canier’s work is influenced by the time spent in Italy, where layers of history are visibly embedded in the fabric of contemporary life. Many of her most recent works are on display as part of a one-person exhibition at the Painting Center, a gallery in New York City. “It always amazes me to realize that in spite of vast technological advances, we are not really that different from the people who lived hundreds of years ago and our lives are informed by their collective ideas and customs,” Canier said. “Many of my paintings juxtapose artifacts from the distant past with contemporary imagery to present a non-linear idea about time and human experience.”

Canier has also borrowed imagery from her personal family history, using snapshots from the 1940s and ’50s to evoke a sense of time and place particular to the American immigrant experience of post-war New York. Canier noted that these paintings address the nature of snapshots and the way in which they freeze and record intimate memories to create mythologies not only for particular families, but also for generations. According to the gallery, Canier’s technique involves “a combination of collage and painting, using mixed-media to borrow imagery from the classical world along with 19th century and contemporary photographs to create images about human experience of time, history, and memory.”

A recent review of the exhibition by critic John Goodrich appeared in CityArts, a publication about current New York culture. “Caren Canier’s footloose but tidy appropriations bring an immediate appeal to her mixed-media works of painted and collaged images... A surrealism-tinged nostalgia animates all such scenes, it seems, charged, equally by the artist’s affection and her sardonic wit; her inventions pile up as fast as brushstroke — or collage material — can muster.”

Over the years, Canier has won numerous awards for her work, including the Pollack/Krasner Foundation grant, the Ingram Merrill Foundation grant, and two Artist’s Fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts. Her work has also been on display in numerous venues including solo exhibitions in galleries in New York, Boston, and New Hampshire, among others.

Canier is now working on a series of paintings about Egypt that combine images of modern Cairo and Ancient Egypt based on her travels to the country while on sabbatical last semester.

For more information regarding the exhibit, go to

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 14, September 24, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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