An altogether beautiful documentary about the extraordinary potter Karen Karnes, From the Inside: The Work of Karen Karnes is another work about a member of Black Mountain College. The film continues the tradition of adding one more piece to the puzzle of understanding the legacy of the famous—and famously unorthodox—school. As such, all the recent films on the college taken as a whole form the most vibrant picture of Black Mountain College imaginable, because they so completely capture the essence of the amazing people who made up the college—both as teachers and students. As Paulus Behrensohn, dancer and clay artist, notes in the film, “Black Mountain College was an extraordinary event in the history of art and education in this country. It was a school that had no tests, no marks, no required subjects, and where everything was practiced as if it were a studio art. Even academic subjects were hands-on.” He later adds, “Everyone who went there made a contribution to aesthetic and social consciousness in a way that was very important and Karen was very much a part of it.” From the Inside tells this and more about this phenomenal artist.
Using interviews, old photographs and beautifully photographed images of Karnes’ work, documentarian Lucy Phenix presents a very organic picture of a woman whose work and life (the two being inseparable according to Behresohn) are in themselves organic. The images that Karnes draws from nature are carefully repeated by the film itself in many instances. Phenix also captures the spirit of a lively, outspoken and delightfully quirky woman, who still revels in the tactile experience of her art, the end results and the basic therapeutic power of its creation: “I think it’s really the solution to all the problems of high-school children. I think if they really, really get interested in working in clay, it transforms people.” The result is a captivating and occasionally even mesmerizing film.