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February's Mind of the Artist: Karen Van Allen

February 1, 2020

In kindergarten, I drew a picture I liked, was proud of and making it satisfied something in me.  That sense of something about art, making pictures, creating things deepened over time, took root and was not to be ignored.  Years later, during my first visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in my late teens, seeing Brancusi's "Bird in Space," confirmed that art, making art is important, it can change everything and I wanted to do it.   

The influence of Brancusi's sculpture may explain paintings (I got to years later) with sweeping curves.  Curving lines, criss-crossing lines, bright colors became the elements in a series I called Intersections.  The first painting was my first abstract, Love Orange, the second, one of the Intersection series.

Love, Orange, acrylic on canvas, 40x30 Intersections, acrylic on canvas, 48x24, SOLD

Usually my work begins with a sense of something, sometimes just a taste for a color or a shape that will not let go.  I love the John Cage quote, "begin anywhere" and I do.  I've learned to trust it.  Sometimes it's taken me astray and a (cut up) painting becomes a series of greeting cards.  Curiously or not, they frequently work beautifully as small works.  

For a recent birthday, I took on a painting series of the 10 Ox-Herding Pictures from the Zen story depicting the stages of enlightenment.   It challenged me to abstractly represent each stage and through collage and monochromatic choices, I powered through.  This project began with experimentally cutting up canvas, shredding it, painting it and seeing there might be some possibilities here.  In other words, I had no intention with my experiment to launch a 10 painting series, it just appeared, sort of.  The next painting is No. 8 of that series.

(8) Untitled, canvas and acrylic on canvas, 24x48

Traveling has influenced, generated various series almost without me knowing it.  For example, a trip to Iceland and the white, gray extraordinary beauty there compelled a series reflecting the scenic impressions once I returned home. An example, Iceland IV.

Iceland IV, acrylic on canvas, 48x24

Another series was inspired by a trip to Barcelona and the cathedral, La Sagrada Familia.  Again, the influence of that visit emerged once I returned to the studio and was not immediately apparent until I realized I was painting stain glass windows reminiscent of the cathedral windows. Cathedral Series IV is an example.

Cathedral Series IV, acrylic on canvas, 30x40

In the recent past, there's been an internal insistence to attend to culturally relevant material.  Several pieces have emerged through painting, collage and narrative that reflect my sentiments.  Below is titled The State of Things, 2018.

2018, the state of things, acrylic and collage on paper, 28 x 20

In every instance of creative action, I have learned from, been supported and guided by teachers, at the Yellow Barn, Walt Bartman Jr., Jordan Bruns and the Torpedo Factory by Bev Ryan as well as the critique group of CHAW facilitated by Carolyn Rondthaler.  My husband, Rosario and friends frequently have invaluable feedback on a piece that makes the difference.  The keen eye of Tamora Ilasat, my studio partner for 4 years rescued many paintings from a sad ending.

To say I work intuitively is somewhat true.  I do honor color insistences, demanding shapes but I also honor doing nothing as a way into a painting.  Sitting in front of a blank canvas without anxiety or judgement seems to be a worthy exercise for me.  Something comes, it always does.  In its own time.

Find more info on Karen at her website vanallenart.com.

 

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