Review Me: Karen Khan: Questioning the Reality
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Friday, August 20, 2021

Karen Khan: Questioning the Reality

Karen, many thanks for accepting our invitation to make us more familiar with your art career and remarkable artworks. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

The pivotal moment that decided the direction of my artistic life came when I was reading the art critic, Arnheim's commentary of Picasso's painting, Guernica. I began to see that he and other art critics thought that it was their role to decide the true value of art. They even inferred that they should clarify artistic thinking and be leaders of thought and judgment. I knew from my painting background that if someone is not actually an artist that beyond a point their knowledge base was here say. I no longer wanted to be an art critic, so I transferred to Carnegie-Mellon University and threw myself into abstract painting. I have always wanted to be an artist. I spent a lot of time in nature as a child and I carved out a corner of the laundry room as a makeshift studio as a child. Like many people I came from a less than perfect family, and I was driven to seek strength in my art as an escape.

So cool! You found that when you create art, you can feel it, touch it, and then you can think and feel like an artist and make critical judgments about specific artworks more clearl. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

As I continued to develop my painting, I also started down the academic track in high school. My parents encouraged us to be good students, and my sister and I had a bit of a rivalry over grades. I wanted to go into creative writing and follow my sister into academia. I spent a year and a half at Columbia University wanting to major in English and art history. A teacher of mine wanted to sponsor my poetry writing. However, after a summer in NYC and a relationship that went sour, I soon transferred to art school. I decided that art was my first love and that it would never abandon me.

That’s great. In fact, art has convinced you that it can be the best friend, companion, and passion you can have in life. Karen, tell us about your workday. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

I am mostly peaceful yet animated when I paint. Before painting on a given day, I open my energy field and take some meditative breaths and try to be receptive to channeling and seeing visual information. Other times, it takes laser-like focus to get the work done. I work five hours a day.
I also do spiritual meditation that is quite different. I would be focusing then on the light in my heart. In both cases, I am open to receiving higher guidance.
I like to have a cup of hot tea ready to sip. I prefer to work in silence rather than with music. After the obligatory chores, checking emails and weight lifting, I start work mid-morning.
I first ready my pallet, a big clear Plexiglas sheet. I lay out the colors in a classically ordered manner learned from my time spent at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art.

We are willing to know more details about you while creating artwork. So, take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork? Where does an artwork begin for you?

There are two ways that I get an idea. Sometimes ideas will come to me in meditations and other times I do not have a clue what kind of still life that I will set up, and I find out by intuitively playing with and arranging objects which I have collected. I add and subtract elements and consider what relationships might develop, and if I want to pursue this direction. I pose and prop different objects, hang floating objects, and consider reflective and non-reflective surfaces. I use both geometric and nature elements like dry leaves, and different-sized mirrors. As my composition comes into focus, the changes that I make are smaller until my setup crystallizes.
The composition of my current untitled painting, came to me in meditation. My first Reflection series painting, Imminent also came to me in meditation. Also, my painting, Andromeda Rising was first seen in my mind’s eye while meditating.
Abstract thinking is inextricably fused with all the art elements of color, light, value, form as space as I compose setups.

They are truly stunning artworks. You juxtapose objects, geometric shapes, natural elements, mirrors, and surfaces together, and the combination you create is really impressive and thought-provoking. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

How to combine abstraction with realism has been my conundrum and passion. I had to evolve consciously enough to understand my unique take on this idea. As an adult, I was faced as all artists are, with developing a unique style that fully represented who I was. It took a lot of time for me to authentically accomplish this task. Worldly matters such as making a living through illustration, then mural painting, did get in the way. Of course, all our prior experience acts as the foundation for our further development.
In my twenties, I painted abstract work that combined elements of cubism and abstract expressionism. I enjoyed dwelling in a dissociated mind frame as I worked. It was an explorative period. However, figurative images kept popping up in my work. It is perhaps less common for a mature artist to move from abstraction to realism. I believe Picasso said that he thought that the human brain always must have a connection with realistic images even in abstraction. This was my natural development. It is hard to say when I began seeing realism as abstract. At the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, I remember seeing the figure as a landscape. It was a freeing concept to see a pure form. A central concept running through my work is how my personal spiritual development affected how I see reality.
Still life became the focus of my traditional realistic paintings as well, prior to my current Reflection series. Some of these earlier pieces included mirrors, cut glass, and bright shiny objects. I saw fabric as a sheath between worlds and was captivated by its subtle abstract forms. Occasionally, objects were wrapped half-hidden in a fabric sheath. It took several more years for my still life concept to develop into the clarity of the Reflection series.

Your paintings are the reflection of questions or answers about the universe, existence, dimension, quantum physics, reality, consciousness, etc., in your mind. What do you prefer more? Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

My paintings are part of the "new still life" movement. I intuitively juxtapose both geometric and biomorphic forms to compose a still life using mirrors and sometimes Hubble telescope images of galaxies. I hope that the viewer clearly sees my Reflection series paintings as a fusion of tantalizing shapes and without preconceptions of object use.
I am inspired to understand more about how to think abstractly about realism by quantum physics. If everything is really energy, then the illusion of "solid" objects becomes more special. What are reality and consciousness? I think that realism from this viewpoint is the most abstract genre. I hope that my compositions are beautiful and intriguing.

They surely are. You arrange objects you have collected. You add and subtract elements and consider what relationships might develop. Then, Abstract thinking is fused with all the art elements of color, light, value, and finally forms space as you compose setups. How do you get inspired, Scott? How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

In my painting, Magellanic Cloud, I was inspired by an older drawing of mine called, Incandescence. I always wanted to grow this drawing into a painting. My vision was fueled by a long-lost Plexiglas female torso in the original drawing. I had to find another female torso to anchor the subconscious to emerging humanity. The complete visual concept for my current untitled was so clearly presented in meditation. Another source of inspiration is the degradation of the environment expressed as elements in my painting. Crushed coke cans, plastic, dead leaves, and throw-away junk are examples of such elements. The merging of spiritual and scientific concepts as an offshoot of quantum physics also shapes my thinking and inspires my images. Often as I am staging a still life I will become fascinated by a visual possibility that dictated the direction that the arrangement will take.

In your setups, you use a combination of some subjects? How do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from?

My setups are made up of a combination of collected visual paraphernalia as well as newly acquired objects. I can either start with a visual idea or give birth to an unexpected new one. The collage-type thinking of adding, subtracting, and rearranging pieces of the puzzle works for me. I follow my muse unquestionably while building still life. For example, while composing my Reflections painting, Night Vigil, I wanted a black background and bright shiny metallic and plastic shapes that sat on a mirror, popping out in the foreground. When the painting was finished, it still needed another item. I was drawn to a dramatic hot pink textured and suspended ribbon from a Christmas package that fulfilled the painting.

I know this is a difficult question to ask about your artwork because each of the elements used in your artwork tells a story of its own, and the combination of them reveals a very memorable overall story. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

I would like to be remembered for my Reflection series. The individual painting also entitled, Reflections, was a breakthrough piece. The large visually complex setup and sweeping sea of blue fabric were also mirrored. I hung several small mirrors that I imagined as living orbs. This painting considered the concept of non-human life forms and parallel realities.
My painting, Andromeda Rising included two Hubble telescopes back drops. The image of humanity in the mannequin figure is bowed down by the weight of the new reality. The first Reflection series painting called, Imminent, pushes the viewer towards creating a dissonance. No narrative! Why the coke can, fall leaves, and upside-down globe? A sitting wooden figure is surrounded by fall leaves contemplating a conundrum. The reflection in the hanging mirror behind the wooden figure's head was my first orb-like element.

Since our readers are passionate about your artworks, they are waiting for your future series. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

I am going to be experimenting with how the human figure from a live model, fits into my quantum world. My reflection series world does not seem complete without this further consideration. I have used only mannequins until now to represent the human element. I am starting with a life-size reclining nude against a Hubble backdrop, that is laying on rumpled plastic, with coke cans and the ubiquitous inflatable plastic globe.
I realize that figure paintings are not still life's, which is what I have been exclusively painting.
The tie-in for me is to see all visual elements, including the human figure, as abstract shapes. I want to experiment with expanding my vision. I do not see my Reflection series as finished.
Other compositional ideas are: To use cropped images of the figure along with the same sized still life objects. To use an uncropped, but smaller human figure with larger still life objects.

Now, let’s talk about your influences, Karen. What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?

The perfection and quiet poetry of classical Italian Renaissance painting seeped into my veins first at a young age. I remember painting an early still life that had a background similar to the Florentine hills behind the Mona Lisa.
Picasso was fascinating to me, but not so easily understood until my teens. His dynamic approach to new thinking and breaking the rules of classicism was so sweeping. I wrote him a letter in fifth grade asking him to be his apprentice. I never heard back. He was my favorite artist. I painted a cubist painting of my own of Gertrude Stein as a tribute to his work of this name.
The photo realists like Janet Fish, directly influenced my current work. All her still life reflections were so full of abstraction and light. I loved the detailed drama of her work and felt that an imaginary world gained more impact by spending time on details. I liked her continued emphasis on reflections.
I was just a little put off with her sometimes "display case" still life format. I wanted a different presentation that would have no overtures of a department store display case and shopping.

Great! If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

I love the late paintings of the pop artist, Rosenquist. It seems to me that he was seeking a new direction for the forefront of the Avant guard of painting. He was using some galactic imagery and combining abstraction with realism in a highly energized yet composed manner. It would have been wonderful to talk to him passionately about his exact personal focus in these late paintings, and the art world in general. What was he thinking and feeling? I have no idea what his spiritual beliefs were. I would have enjoyed learning about any insights that he cared to share.
We have in common that I choose to paint similar subject matter, but from a different viewpoint and in a different style.
I would relish any comments that he had to share about my painting!

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