Karen Bottle Capps
Born in Malvern, Arkansas, Karen spent most of her childhood years combing through treasures at the city dump. While smelling cleaning chemicals mixed with rotten eggs, she coddled baby chicks discarded by the local chicken hatchery. Pulling from this heaping trash pile, Karen created the first of many found object collages, using doll heads, broken Matchbox cars, bottle caps, and the occasional fork on a backdrop of mud in pursuit of assembling her masterpiece. From there, the art of dump diving became her passion, transforming one man’s trash into her own personal form of folk art.
At the age of 50, Karen has spent countless hours unlearning the formal lessons imposed upon her by a ruthless art system. Now she focuses on combining screen printing with mixed media collages, creating art that is at once universal and personal. "I hope my work takes the viewer back to a time or place from their past. I want them to have a relationship with the piece. The emotional experience can be funny, ridiculous, curious, fantastical, or even sad, as long as it engages the viewer and encourages them to make the piece a part of themselves." A reflection of herself, the work is deeply Southern in its appeal: "It’s like a collection of my own life experiences," she says, "but each individual viewer reacts to it, bringing in their own personal identity."
As of late, Karen has shown works in galleries and stores throughout the South, including L. Ross Gallery, the Buckman Performing Arts Center, the Circuit Playhouse, Otherlands Coffee Bar, and Central BBQ in Memphis, Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art Store in Clarksdale, MS, and the Clinton Presidential Library Store in Little Rock, AR. One of her more recent projects was partnering with students from West Memphis High School through DeltaArts to create a six-foot sculpture of their mascot, the Blue Devil, fully equipped with students’ personal items, such as toys, old cell phones, and jewelry.
When not making art, Karen can be found either noodling on the Wolf River or trying to coax her favorite chicken, Butter, into laying slightly larger eggs.
This is what really happened:
Karen “Bottle” Capps was born in an alley behind the Malvern, Arkansas Tastee Freeze (home also to fellow freak luminary Billy Bob Thornton) to Colleen Cumie and Buddy Capps, a telephone operator and a truck driver. Raised in trailer court day care by a chainsmoker named Lurlene, she learned how to say her ABC’s, eat mayonnaise sandwiches, and who the principal characters of Days of Our Lives were by the age of seven.
She was raised in the Jones Mill Snake Handling Church of Jesus Christ, but fortunately she was never bitten by the poisonous ones. Since her single-wide Brigadier trailer was permanently littered with Miller High Life bottle caps, transforming these caps into birdhouses, guitars and full-size mock-ups of Michaelangelo’s David became her raison d’etre.
After dropping out of junior high due to a bad case of unrequited lust for her English teacher, Mrs. Betty Sue Smith Jones, she jumped trains and perfected the art of dumpster diving while a youth. She has personally drunk tequila with Howard Finster, L.V. Hull, and the Reverend H.D. Dennis.
Her customized tee-shirts have caused lawsuits (that would be the popular “Dyke...just do her” model), her hangover mirrors have caused divorces, and her little dirty white poodle has been voted “Bad Dog of the Year” for five years running. When not making folk art, she lives, delivers newspapers, and paints in the sketchy side of the Cooper-Young neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee.