The second-floor landing of young artist Carly Blumenthal’s Chelsea apartment bears striking resemblance to Elisa Esposito's hallway in The Shape of Water. Though Blumenthal had chosen the building—and moved in—before the award-winning movie came out, it makes sense that the film-loving illustrator would be attracted to a space filled with so much potential for visual drama. The apartment itself feels warm and lived in; the walls are papered with art and posters, the windowsill populated with felt pillows and flower pots.
She points to a felt pillow that looks like a Super Pretzel box—the kind you would keep in your freezer. “I find that kind of offensive, actually, because I’m from Philly, and we have good pretzels, it’s like a thing.” Initially, she and her roommate had wanted to get the felted bottle of Fireball whiskey from Lucy Sparrow’s 8 ‘till Late exhibition, but it had sold out almost immediately. This sort of anecdote isn’t the only of its kind, Blumenthal can tell a story about nearly every item in her shared one bedroom/loft.
“I’m a really strong believer in building where I’m living through time, rather than, “Oh I have an apartment! Let’s go to HomeGoods or Target or something and buy everything we need.” And I think you guys are like that too, you collect things.”
(She’s right, we do.) “My room is a perfect example of that. Like I just hung that [delicate silver mobile] up with all these postcards. I got it for the holidays as a gift...These prints on the wall are from an illustrator named Danielle Kroll that I interned for. My best friend gave me the Wes Anderson alphabet, my teacher gave me that poster up there like that newsprint. These [postcards] I got when we were at the Man Repeller Bazaar at Canal Street Market.”
A passion for film comes through in every room--strongly--and it’s no coincidence. “I really wanna be in the film industry, and it’s however I can get there. Like I would work in production design, I would work in costume design. But I think animation’s a really cool field.
“I like the idea of animation not being a genre, it’s a method or medium.”
And costume design comes with that too, like its character design and everything. But I like using pencil or pen to go about it.”
Indeed, before settling in illustration, Blumenthal considered fashion and costume design very seriously--though one thing she never wavered from was her determination to get to New York.
She recalls that way back in middle school, “We had to choose colleges for some reason in a math class and I only picked New York City schools and then art school came after that...I always wanted to do art, I didn't know if it was gonna be art school though. Then actually I focused on fashion design instead, and then I was like, Oh, I like film so I’m gonna do costume design, and now I’m an illustration student...illustration and drawing are the things I’m best at and I shouldn’t do anything else.”
But film still has a firm grasp on her heart, and when asked about her favorite animations, Blumenthal buzzes with an almost otherworldly energy.
“I really love claymation, stop-motion, and three-dimensional stuff. I’ve never actually made anything like that but I love it. Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorites and that was even before I decided I liked Wes Anderson. I remember watching Fantastic Mr. Fox, loving it, and years later realizing that it was a Wes Anderson movie. I grew up watching Wallis and Gromit and recently, like the last few years, there’s been this great one called The Bigger Picture by Daisy Jacobs where she built this whole life size set where she painted larger than life people on the walls but also used three-dimensional arms--it sounds ridiculous--but arms coming out of the walls and everything to create this animated movie about a death in a family. It’s just really raw and interesting.”
On the difference between illustration and other forms of drawing and painting, Blumenthal says, “A big part of illustration is storytelling, which I didn't even realize, until I got into this curriculum, that everything had storytelling in it. I feel like in other art it’s easier to make it just aesthetically pleasing, but with illustration there’s always something going on, a narrative or story to tell.”
Many of Blumenthal’s pieces tell a powerful story at that, “I would say that when I have creative block, a lot of time I look to current events. For my Nikon piece, I think Peet Rivko had posted about it and I was like oh that would be a perfect thing to make a piece about because it’s not even film industry, but as just a creative women, I look into that a lot. Last year I wrote an essay on the male gaze and how we can get rid of it and also about female involvement in the film industry. It’s not only photographers that have that problem with representation.”
Living in New York has been a major change from growing up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia.
“I came from the suburbs and I make a lot of work about that too, because the comparison of the two places is so different, they’re polar opposites. Everyone’s the same in the suburbs and people don’t even really talk about politics, people don’t like talking about politics, so coming here and having friends that are interested in it, like first semester freshman year, we got to skip class to go protest Trump winning the election, was amazing. And I’d never experienced anything like that before and living on your own and getting to make your own decisions and being around people that sometimes don’t agree with you, but that doesn't matter, because then you can talk about it, is just a very freeing environment.”
That spirit of open debate is clearly valuable to her, and she sometimes wants even more of it and can feel a bit sheltered in critiques. “I’ll ask anyone if I should change anything or what they think of it, and no one will really tell me unless I ask a second time. ‘No really, give me something to change--it can’t be perfect.’”
And there are complications inherent in loving any kind of art, especially film, and especially now. “I’m having a hard time right now because so many of my favorite movies like the actors are getting called out for sexual misconduct, which Dustin Hoffman just was, and he’s in The Graduate [Blumenthal’s favorite movie]. And I love Master of None, like Aziz Ansari, which is super different. It’s not #metoo, but it’s still something wrong with dating culture. Oh, and I love Midnight in Paris, but Woody Allen.”
When asked how she reconciles these disparate images and emotions, Blumenthal is thoughtful and honest about her own confusion.
“I don’t know, it’s really hard, I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t know how to deal with it yet. I know in the future we need more women in powerful roles and positions in the film industry, in every part of the film industry, because it’s so underrepresented. But yeah, I haven't figured out how to cope yet with looking back on that. Because, we watch old movies, and then you watch them now compared to when you were a kid and you didn’t pick up on any references and they’re extremely sexist and really does kind of taint the experience for me. So I haven’t really figured out how to deal with it yet.”
But not all work is so weighty and politically charged.
“I did this whole series on Bill Murray...we had this project based off of Rorschach inkblot test. And I was looking at them and I was like it’d be really cool to make this world based around one person and Bill Murray just came to mind. And he has this cult following and I wasn’t even obsessed with him before I did that project. But reading about him—like how he doesn’t have an agent, he just has a 1-800 number that people call to pitch movies—just made me totally fall in love with the idea of Bill Murray, so I made each inkblot have to do with one of his movies. One of the first Bill Murray movies I ever saw was Meatballs. Not everyone has seen that, it’s really obscure. So I made one with Meatballs, I did one with Lost in Translation, Life Aquatic, and Caddyshack. And people really liked it too.”
View more of Carly’s work at carlywynn.com.