Reality Star: 5 Questions for Cara Ober


_dsc0806As a critic, I’ve written about artist Cara Ober’s mixed media work over the years. Since she started her BmoreArt blog in 2007 and, more recently, its corresponding print journal, I’ve written for her. Ober, 42, grew up in Westminster. She studied art at American University in Washington, D.C., moved back to Westminster while earning an art education degree and, in 1998, started teaching at Owings Mills High School. Looking for an art community, she moved to Baltimore in 2000, found a shared studio space and earned an MFA  at MICA in 2005. Then she quit her teaching job to focus on art, which bummed out her parents.

Your parents were never high on the whole artist career choice?

They were both teachers; they just wanted me to be secure. I think the perception was that art is really hard. You’ll struggle. You’ll be poor. You need benefits. I always wanted to be an artist. I was always making books and publications.

It’s interesting to hear you say you’ve always made books and publications. Most of your visual art that I’ve seen combines imagery with text. Your most recent work involved digital prints. Is that new?

It was my first time making digital prints in Photoshop instead of collaging by hand. I taught myself Photoshop this winter. I ended up making these densely layered tableau things that I like. And it made it faster. I like to work fast, which forces me to be decisive. Photoshop is so immediate, and I was shocked with the outcome. If I hadn’t done an interview with [artist and printmaker] Liz Donadio about her Color Wheel Digital Printing, I wouldn’t have seen that these prints are beautiful fine-art prints on archival bamboo paper. So it was just fun to think, “Oh, this piece needs ancient text from Mesopotamia.” I Google “ancient Mesopotamia text” and have 50 different options. I can layer it. I can resize it. I can make it see-through.

Has text always been a part of your work?

Since grad school. I didn’t really do it very nimbly. I think one of my mentors advised me to take out the text because it was distracting. But to me the art wasn’t visually integrated. I love that with text you can say one thing and mean something completely different. I like placing that idea with imagery that doesn’t necessarily immediately gel. The weirder it gets, the better. It can’t be random. There is a system there, an organization. Just the images without the text, that’s just too literal. I need that weird metaphor.

Has becoming an arts writer influenced your work?

I think it has to … looking at a ton of art all the time and asking yourself, “Why is this good? How is it good?”

And now with the BmoreArt Journal, you’re back to making a publication. Why?

I love magazines as a medium. They can be an object of beauty and intellectual curiosity, but it’s also accessible. And there is something really satisfying about being able to hand something to someone, a printed object that is beautiful. It’s interesting: I didn’t see [the journal] coming at all. I thought it would be cool to do. That was an artist decision, not a business decision. An artist thinks, “This thing should exist in the world.” Then they find a way to make that thing exist.

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