Monday, July 26, 2010

Karen Freedman: Artist Interview

I have been an admirer of Karen Freedman's work since the first time I saw it. Her work is very energetic. In the process of our dialogue, it was fun to learn that we attended the same college (Philadelphia College of Art) at overlapping times.

Karen Freedman at work in her current studio

Lynette (LH): Can you share with my readers a little about yourself?
Karen: Although I have been a working artist my entire adult life, I only began my journey as a fine artist about eight years ago.

LH: Where did you grow up and what (if any) were there any early influences on your work?
Karen: I was born, raised, educated, married, raised two children, divorced and still live in and around Philadelphia, PA. One of my long-term goals is to avoid having my obituary read that I died and will be buried in Philadelphia too.

Reclamation: Veiled Gift
6” x 6” encaustic, cold wax on panel
LH: Did you receive any formal art training? If yes, where, and what did you major in?
Karen: I attended Philadelphia College of Art (now The University of the Arts) majoring in jewelry design. My first introduction to this craft was through my high school art teacher who had a small jewelry shop set up in a portion of our classroom. I loved it. I was a stereotypical feminine product of the era. This was the first time I was actually encouraged to get physical with creativity. As a child I loved to wander the aisles of the hardware department at Sears, lusting after all the tools and imagining what I could do with them. Jewelry Design gave me that chance.
Unfortunately, we were taught to make jewelry as an art form and not as a living—so after college I taught myself graphic design and had a successful freelance business for many years.
When I originally enrolled in art school and declared my major, my father commented, “You’re not an artist unless you paint”. Not the wisest thing to say to a rebellious 17 years old. It wasn’t until my late 40’s that I realized I didn’t have to listen to that voice anymore. That is when I enrolled in some continuing ed classes at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the attempt to learn the skills and techniques I had managed to avoid to this point.
Yet the most valuable lessons I took away from art school had nothing to do with technique, craft, or color theory. Art school taught me how to think outside the box, how to problem solve. I learned how to look at situations from many different angles and come up with as many solutions. Those are skills I use on a daily basis whether making art or not. Or maybe my life is just one big performance piece. 

Reclamation: Smiles of a Fool
12” x 12” encaustic on panel
LH: Was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?
Karen: I have always thought of myself as an artist. It has never been a choice although there are times when I thought it was. Throughout my life I have gone through many fits and starts and quite a few vocational incarnations but the art was always there.

Abacus: Summation 
12” x 12” encaustic on panel 

LH: Can you describe bit about your work in general.
Karen: I have finally come to realize that the repetitive themes of my art are more that a just a visual vocabulary. My artist statement will tell you that my work is about order and repetition. Since that can easily be read on my website I’d prefer to just list the common themes my life and art share and let you connect the dots. They are, in no special order: games, puzzles, cryptograms, spreadsheets, geometry, conflict, contrast, resolution, dance, color, process, surprise, and laughter.

LH: What is your media?
Karen: I have been working almost exclusively in encaustic for about five years. This medium meets so many of my visceral needs. Encaustic is visually sensual, a luminous conduit for pigment, challenging, unforgiving, labor and processes intense, and last but not least, it gives me an excuse to indulge my inner ‘tool junkie’.

There are zillions of concepts whirling around in my head. I am now in the process of finding the common threads to weave together to form the matrix of a new series.

The Studios, in Contrast....
LH: Karen, what is your workspace like? 

Karen: My studio is located in the dark, unfinished basement of a house that I am currently renting. Although quite large, it pales in comparison to my former studio that was in a converted factory/artist’s studio complex. I love working in a facility with access to other artists. It was a great source of inspiration, opportunities and human contact. The size, layout and lighting of my former studio space itself was great and I only now appreciate how much the physical properties of a studio can affect my process.

An important part of my process is to hang my work in my studio during different stages of each painting’s development. There was an area in my old studio I thought of as my “do nothing space” where I could disengage from the physical act of painting and literally distance myself from the piece. While sitting there I would read, do cryptograms or anything else that would get my brain working in a different direction. Periodically I would stop to look up at the painting(s) in progress, with fresh eyes. My gut reactions at those moments guide me towards the resolution of conflicts or confirm that I am on the right track. My current studio space has no finished walls for me to hang my work. Instead what I have is a basement lined in insulation. Unfortunately the ceiling is too low to upright my easel. I am trying to come up with some cost conscious ways to meet my needs in a space that is temporary. I welcome any ideas.

Karen's current studio

Another view of her current workspace

Karen's Thinking Chair—in her previous studio

Karen's Thinking Chair—in the current studio

Another pic of the previous space

LH: Describe how you work in your studio. How do you get "in a groove" and what inspires you?
Karen: Discipline and action. If I don’t have a concept, I just start something and see where it takes me. It usually leads somewhere.

LH: Do you have any web links/site/blog etc. you'd like to share that show your work?

LH: Do you ever get stuck with your work and how do you remedy this?
Karen: I don’t have a really good answer for this. Getting stuck can make me feel like a hamster on a wheel. I keep repeating the same concept and loose the ability to move forward. Recently, I had to give myself permission not to paint, which is different than just not painting. Sort of like the concept of how good things happen when you stop expecting them. My best work comes when I can let go.

LH: What are you reading right now?
Karen: “The Golden Ratio, The Story of Phi, The World’s Most Astonishing Number”, by Mario Livio. I’m exploring the formal use of mathematics in art in hopes of incorporating it as an added element to my work.

LH: Do you have other jobs other than making art?
Karen: Previously I was able to devote myself to my art full time. Since my recent divorce I decided to enroll in cosmetology school as a way to earn enough income to support myself. This will also take the pressure off of depending on the sale of my art to sustain my ability to create art.

LH: Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?
Karen: I hope to continue to produce work that stimulates me visually and challenges me mentally. I’d like to keep moving forward even if that means revisiting old themes and approaching them in a novel way.

LH: Do you have any upcoming shows that you'd like to mention?
Karen: Nothing concrete at the moment.

Thank you Karen!


Nancy Natale said...

How nice to learn more about Karen, her background, working habits and plans for the future. Karen and I spoke a little bit at the conference and this rounds out my info. Karen's work is beautiful, very precise but painterly at the same time. It's no wonder that Joanne M. selected her work as the prize winner in the Best Foot Forward show. Congratulations, Karen, and thanks for letting us all learn more about you.

Tamarise Cronin said...

LOVED reading this Lynnette! Thank you!

LynetteH said...

Thanks for your comments!

Unknown said...

Enjoyed seeing Karen's work space and getting more insight into her creative process. I really enjoy the correlation of puzzles and cryptograms to the finished work. Thanks for this post!