Karen Storm: Painting from Prose to Poetry.
"I like to use what I call my artistic license to move my painting from what I see, literally, to what goes beyond that." Karen Storm
We can see Storm's comments playing out in the painting she calls Distant Thunder. The earthbound landscape gives the viewer the expected sunset view of a valley filled with the last of the day's colors. Mountains turn blue-violet in the distance. The deep greens of the trees and shrubs in the foreground settle themselves in for an evening's rest. However, the sky, in a grand poetic gesture, takes that viewer elsewhere, perhaps to Venice, so like it is to the airy drama found in Tiepolo. Yet, no, in the distant corner rain descends, slanted by the wind and maybe not ever reaching the ground because of the Southwest's dry air. The viewer can place him or herself in a known environment, solid and literal, and at the same time float off among the swirls of light that drift upward carried by those clouds. Storm gives us both a stated reality and a dream, in a painting that lets us be grounded while we imagine.
Likewise, in Sacred Lands, we once again see a landscape familiar to the Southwest, scant forest, a distant rocky mesa, and desert. The structure of the painting plays with our perceptions of these elements. The normal fantastic southwestern sky is cut to a tiny strip of blue (though turquoise in shade). The mesa holds it space well enough to join with that strip of sky to become a complete work in and of itself. The forest scene below with a trace of water running through it is its own southwestern image. However, just above it are sandy hills that have fallen into what look like drifts. This one painting captures the most iconic images of the Southwest in a view that lets us appreciate the totality of the region in one poetic gestalt.
"Art is like learning a language with all its nuances and intricacies. And, like my son says, '...you never really know a culture until you can speak the language.' It is the same with art!" Karen Storm.
Again we can see how the artist connects written, spoken, and painted expression into a unity. As a plein air painter she speaks of how art helps connect one to nature and the grandness of it which makes the human ego so small. "Everyone is connected. Separateness is a human illusion," she says. Her own discovery of this started as a child when she says she was always drawing things and collecting items of interest. She was encouraged by her beloved Aunt Jane, and as an adult continued developing her ideas as she taught youngsters. After twenty-seven years as a teacher, she could still say that "Being an art teacher was a great joy. Children have a natural artistic effervescence that is contagious."
Storm says she always starts a painting with an intention. Doing a painting is a "journey with a destination" in her opinion. She works from a combination of sources, including plein air sketches, studies, color notes, and photos of the scene. She writes out her intention, perhaps to make a grand statement, perhaps to have an intimate conversion, and puts that written intention on her easel. I asked her what happens if she "hits a wall" in terms of creating what she wants. She turned to her library of art books and pulled out a tome. "I turn to the masters," she said. Storm finds that the history of art is such that there has always been someone who found a solution to every problem, whether composition, color usage, or just general cohesiveness of the elements of the piece.
Certainly in the work above, Soaring, we see the artist making a grand statement, and one that required the coming together of a number of different elements. Storm captures the majestic quality of the rocky terrain, which largely has to do with its eye-popping color variations. She warms us with the rich reds, oranges, subtle pinks, and variations of violet. Then she moves us to the shadows that fall upon the canyon floor. Our senses cool just as the air might when the sun is left lighting only the tops of the rocky cliffs. The move from the nearby warm color scheme to a more distant cooler one takes us into the picture. The way the top of the cliff opens to let the far line of hills play peek-a-boo draws the eye even deeper into the scene, emphasizing the vastness of the whole view. The artist never forgets her license to create the poetic. Here she gives us a well-defined set of rock formations in the foreground, but as the cliff face moves farther away, the colors become dabs and blends, shape-shifting into a patchwork of pastels, a delicate touch to delight the eye.
As has been mentioned, the artist's intention is sometimes that of an intimate conversation. Her recent work on water lilies is a good example of how she can go from the grandiose vistas to the quiet and simply beautiful essence of these flowers. Flowers are wonderfully engaging as they have definite structure, yet are so delicate that a pelting rain or strong wind carries them away. Here, Storm has captured a moment appropriate to quiet, peaceful reflection, perhaps an inner dialog with the self in relationship with the ephemeral beauty of the lilies.
Beyond capturing the roaring rush of spring snow melt tumbling down a mountain stream, the simplicity of the limited palette used for the painting intensifies the focus on the rushing waters. The land, whether rock or forest, uses the same few colors, while the mountains and the water are consistently blues and whites. The composition of the painting makes one feel as though the mountain is slowly dissolving into these waters. The tumbling rapids at the foot of the painting have enough force to leap right out of the painting. One can imagine a puzzled maintenance worker trying to figure out why every morning there is water on the floor beneath this painting. Something mysterious must be happening at night in the gallery.
"Art leads to introspection, especially when a crisis arises. The Pandemic forced me to rely only upon my own judgement about whether a painting works well or not." Karen Storm
Storm says that when she left teaching to become a full-time artist herself, she thought, "How hard can it be?" Her response was, "I soon found out." She engaged with a number of artists who gave workshops. She enjoyed learning from them and the give-and-take of discussions on art of all kinds, be it dance, music, theater, or literature. The arts community was and is her community. However, then came the crisis - the Pandemic. Suddenly in the precarity and the aloneness of the situation, she had no one to ask about the quality of her artistic production but herself. Her own artistic instincts sharpened and self-reliance in terms of acknowledging her own skills and inner knowing moved her to accept herself as the real arbiter of the quality of her work. Her instincts have been proven correct by her successful gallery associations and prizes won in juried competitions. She also noted that in the Pandemic, people turned more to the arts. In her case, she found that she sold a lot of work, as people were discovering their local artists. All of this was more validation for her trust in her own voice.
"Artists should be a the core of everything we do and not on the fringes. The world would be a more peaceful and joy-filled place were that true." Karen Storm
Storm considers herself to be a spiritual being having a material experience. This is something that most artists are well aware of as inspiration comes from many sources. Art communicates on so many levels, and sometimes the artist discovers influences unthought of at the time of the work's creation. Storm mentions a woman who told her how a piece that Storm had done helped her deal with the pain of her cancer treatments. Another person said this to her, "If a piece of art speaks to you, just think of the conversations you'd have if your owned that piece." Storm says she no longer wonders if art makes a difference or why. She knows it does.
"Staying curious! …about life, art, nature, myself, …that one little leaf still on the tree, the tiny shell washed up on the beach, the lilac fragrance floating on the wind. It’s all magic, isn’t it?!" Karen Storm
Storm obviously intends to keep on growing. Painting from real objects and the real world are essential. In her opinion, understanding and using shapes and values create a solid foundation, without which "things go awry quickly." She comments, "I use to try to
paint literally what I saw, but now I take a little more artistic license in my work. I am hopefully working to move my paintings from “prose” (or just recording what I see) to
“poetry” …my life’s work, I think." A considered look at Storm's body of work shows just how she is moving toward that goal.
Karen Storm may be contacted by email at StormyKaren@gmail.com or through her website Karen Storm Fine Art at karenstorm.com, where she offers a newsletter.
In Colorado Springs her work can be seen at Squash Blossom Gallery 2531 West Colorado Ave.
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
For more on me and my art and travel inspired writing, see my author page at amazon.com/author/marjorievernelle
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© Marjorie Vernelle 2022