Artist of the Week (10/31/05)
Karen definitely falls into that category of painters who seem to be arguing that the best way to deal with the barrage of information thrown at us these days is by structuring things granularly. "Systems painting" might be one term to describe it. Some artists invested in this approach focus on man-made systems, presumably attributing how overwhemled we are to technology, but Karen looks toward nature.
I would argue that, despite subject matter, this approach has as its goal one of two objectives: to let the artist disappear within a process so all consuming the outside chaos fades or to attempt to organize that chaos. Having done a few studio visits with Karen, I'd say she falls into that second category. She's organzing the bits and pieces, taming them through the strength of her patience. Here, in honor of the holiday, is one of her blood drop paintings:
Karen Arm, untitled (blood drops #2), 2001, Acrylic on canvas, 44" x 36" (image from PPOW website)
Her gallery describes Karen's process this way:
What first impressed me about Karen's work is that illusion of space. You're drawn into these works. Karen explains that "My focus is with the intimate and the expansive -- setting up a tension between the two." For me though, whether blood or smoke or stars or abstract marks, this structure or web of familiar items, despite the implications of infinity they convey, seem comforting, nonthreatening, as if the artist is saying "It's OK...yes, there's a lot of them, but they won't hurt you." Here's one of "roots":
[Karen] develops her paintings from photographs used for scientific observation of natural phenomena that the unaided eye might fail to detect. She builds up layers of glazes on canvas and then applies marks to that ground that are abstractions of these phenomena: plumes of smoke caught in ambient air currents, concentric ripples of water, rhythmic crests of ocean waves, or outer-space star clusters. She applies another layer of semi-transparent ground over these marks, obscuring them and pushing them into the color field. Arm continues to alternate luminous grounds and accretions of micro-marks to create a seemingly infinite macro-world. Natural phenomena are abstracted and sealed into the canvas’s meditative illusionistic deep space.
Karen Arm, Untitled (abstract root form #1), 2004, Acrylic on canvas 66" x 54" (image from PPOW website)
There are other images online of her work, but having seen just how exquisite they are in real life it pains me to put the ones with smaller marks up here (I have width constrictions that make it pointless). Here's one more where the marks form an image though:
Karen Arm, Untitled (green whirlpool), 2004, Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 30" (image from PPOW website)