Interview with Karen Stastny – Contemporary New Orleans/Asheville Abstract Artist

February 28, 2016
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What do a native of New Orleans and a native of Brooklyn find in common while volunteering at a Food Bank in Asheville? Painting!

Meeting Karen Stastny was like reconnecting with an old friend. While packing bags of rice and pasta, we chatted about this and that and discovered that we had so much in common, including our love of painting and our love of a good belly laugh.

Karen’s spontaneous gestural abstract paintings are full of life and energy. Each painting contains a glorious palette that conveys the pure expression of her creative spirit with a sensitivity to blending color, form and texture. Enjoy the interview.


Karen Stastny in front of CHARTING A PATH, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48"

Karen Stastny in front of “Charting a Path”, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 48″

Why did you choose abstract art and what is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

I chose abstraction because it is the art I respond to most.  At some point it dawned on me when I was looking at realistic work, that the pleasure I derive from it is when I could distill it down into an abstract construction. Overall, I am usually looking for a feeling, an emotion, a why did I paint this painting.

Since acrylic paint dries quickly, I can change my mind. I paint very intuitively.  It also allows me to add different media like charcoal, pencil, oil bars, etc. I can also draw into and on top of the work. It’s just very flexible. I also like that I don’t need to use toxic solvent with the medium.

How does living in Asheville influence your art?

I am certainly closer to nature in Asheville, than in New Orleans, and the weather permits being outside a lot more. I think more nature elements will creep in. I also think the palette will change a bit, as it usually does with me in different seasons.

What does having a physical space to make art mean to your process?  Describe your studio space and how, if at all, it affects your work? How do you make your space work for you?

My physical space definitely impacts my work.  The Asheville studio is very light, and large and spacious.  I feel like I can breathe.  The paintings from here reflect that lightness of being.  The New Orleans studio is great, but snaller.  I feel more closed in there, so the paintings are not as loose and free feeling.

How long have you been an artist and how did you get started?

I have been an artist for about 15 years.  I have a degree in Fine Arts.  When I was thinking about quitting my job to paint full time, my husband told me he thought he could support me if I could buy my own paint. I started teaching children’s art classes out of my house in order to pay for my supplies.  Eventually I ended up teaching adult classes at both the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts and the Jewish Community Center.  I am not very aggressive.  Each gallery I have ever been associated with, have asked me to join them.  I have been very fortunate, and I have very good working relationships with the galleries I am with.

Describe your working routine.

My work routine varies.  Generally, I like to put in between 3 to 5 hours a day at a minimum of 4 days a week.  I don’t usually paint on the weekends.  I also like to set a goal for myself of painting a painting each week.  I just like having a set goal, other than just putting in time.  However, if I am not painting on a regular basis, I feel very out of sync, just not right.  That studio is everything.

What are the key elements in creating a good painting?

My personal strengths are in color, line and a fluid gesture.  Those are the primary building blocks  in my work. Aesthetically,  I like harmony, with some dissonance.  I want to live in the piece, whatever it is, and I want to keep coming back to it.  Overall,I want to feel something.

Call and Response is an acrylic on paper by Karen Stastny, a New Orleans and Asheville Painter.

CALL AND RESPONSE by Karen Stastny is acrylic on paper and measures 22″ x 22″

What inspires you?

What inspires me – looking at art that I love – it makes me want to get back in the studio and get to work.  Also, working inspires me.  Work comes from work.  I am interested in the process, and one painting usually has a relationship with the former and then the next one.  There is a dialogue there that I don’t like to interrupt.

How has your style changed over the years?

Initially my paintings were abstract, based on the figure.  They are now totally non-objective, although I think there are landscape/water references in some of them.  They are also now much more fluid and loose.  I think that just came with time as I settled into my self.

How do you navigate the art world?

I don’t.  I’m not good at it.  I don’t have a web site, I don’t try to network.  I do have a number of good friends who are also painters.I have two galleries that I have been with for years and I am grateful for that.

DAY DREAM by Karen Stastny is acrylic on paper and measures 22" x 22"

DAY DREAM by Karen Stastny is acrylic on paper and measures 22″ x 22″

What are you currently working on?

I just recently finished painting for a solo show.  Whew!  Right now I am just working on some smaller pieces on paper and enjoying the process of painting and experimenting.

What’s next?

I will  be attending an abstract painting workshop given by Steve Aimone, my mentor, in the spring in NOLA.  I would also now like to develop a body of work with which to approach galleries in the North Carolina area.

What advice would you give to other artists?

Keep working. Be disciplined.  This is your job, and your gift.  Nurture it and be grateful for it.  Be generous – help others.  Support other artists.  We all benefit from it.

What are you currently reading, listening to, and looking at to fuel work?

I am reading “Keeping an Eye Open / Essays on Art” by Julian Barnes.  I also use Pinterest and Instagram to look at other painters work.  When I see work I like, it always makes me want to get busy painting.

Anything else to add?

Barbara, just thank you for this opportunity.

Barbara: It’s my pleasure and thank you for taking the time to share your art and your process. To see more of Karen’s work please visit Cole Pratt Gallery on Magazine Street in New Orleans.

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A Visit to the Studio of Russell and Ann Jones, Eastern Shore Potters

August 14, 2015
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When you meet Ann and Russell Jones you are immediately drawn in by their enthusiasm, playful spirits, and love of artistic pursuits.  In this interview they discuss how they found their way to pottery, sharing studio space, and their upcoming exhibit.

Russel and Annie Jones in their ceramic studio.

Russel and Annie Jones in their ceramic studio.

Why did you choose ceramics and what is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

Russ: Throughout our marriage of 43 years we have admired and collected decorative pottery. Our exploration of various art forms has taken us throughout the U.S. and inevitably included at least one if not more trips to someone’s pottery studio.

Many years ago we thought we might be able to convert an old barn on our property to an art gallery and studio space. Although that venture didn’t come to fruition, during that time, we learned a great deal about the vast differences and variety of art mediums. I was interested in exploring pottery and Ann expanding into fiber arts, hand work and sewing which had been a hobby of hers for some time.

Ann: Discovering Seagrove, North Carolina over 20 years ago was perhaps a turning point for Russ. He’d taken other opportunities to watch pottery demonstrations but in Seagrove the potters had their studios and kilns adjacent to their homes. In 2006 after we retired Russ had the opportunity to take a class with Elizabeth Hunt, an amazing ceramic artist who lives in our town. The challenge was the frustration in the once-a-week scheduling of classes. It was difficult to keep the momentum going in the learning process with that schedule. At the time we were renovating our home in Onancock and decided to add a “project room” — now studio for each of us. My sewing machines have been safely tucked away after I also started working in clay almost two years ago. Once again, we find ourselves working together as we did for many years in business. Now, however, we simply walk out our back door and explore new and fun things about clay.

How does living on the Eastern Shore influence your art?

Ann: The Eastern Shore of Virginia has some wonderfully talented artists as well as several art organizations that promote their members. We have been supporting members of the Artisans Guild for some time. A number of years ago Russ’s work was juried into the Guild. The Eastern Shore Art League Gallery was the first to show and sell his pottery. Now both the Red Queen Gallery in Onancock and the Ellen Moore Gallery in Cape Charles carry both of our work.

This year the Artisans Center of Virginia helped to organize an Artisans Trail Network on the Eastern Shore. The kick off for the Trail will happen this year and will include the largest number of trail sites to date.  Since Russ is a juried member, our studio is a site on the Trail.

What does having a physical space to make art mean to your process?  Describe your studio space and how, if at all, it affects your work? How do you make your space work for you?

Russ: When we decided to change the plans for the renovation of our home to include our studio, it was more of a way to give us the luxury of having our own spaces rather than of necessity.  However, it has proven to be the best means by which we can explore pottery. The ease of having the space directly out our back door is invaluable. The wheel and kiln are in one room, a table for slab work in the next. It’s truly not an issue to work on something at anytime necessary. We have come to the point that we can “multi task” home chores while waiting long enough for something to dry so it can be trimmed out a slab to cut. Laundry and yard work certainly gets done in a more timely fashion!


Ceramics in the kiln.

Ceramics in the kiln.

Describe your working routine.

Ann: We find our work routine to be not as structured as it might be. However, this winter Russ organized a number of workshops with some other potters in Onancock. We explored surface treatments with slips and stains, spraying, and an especially fun barrel firing. This kept us a bit more structured. Now the summer demands have started and we find we are working more. Recently we’ve been in the studios each day. Russ usually works in the mornings and I head out to the studio in the afternoons.

What personal narratives are related to the work? What inspires you?

Russ: I named my studio Useful Pots and that says it all about my work. Functional bowls and dishes are the bulk of what is created on my wheel. For the most part, my pieces are named to denote their purpose. Munch Buckets and Pails are bowls with handles so that you can carry your snacks and drink outside with one hand. Batter Bowls have a handle to make pouring easy and Walk-Abouts are bowls with a handle that make hot foods easy to handle on the move.  Recently, I’ve expanded my repertoire to include pedestal pieces and free-form dishes.

Russ's works in process

Russ’s works in process

When Ann decided to try making pots she quickly transitioned from the wheel to slab work. Her background in sewing and crafts formed the basis for understanding some of the construction techniques. Her pieces have a function but are rarely plain. Texture and decoration of some kind are on incorporated into each piece. Boxes are a favorite-each one different and distinct. Because she enjoys flowers and baking, vases and casseroles regularly come off her work table.

Ann's works in process

Ann’s works in process

The two forms compliment each other. We now call the studio Useful Pots – by famous unknown potters. We enjoy trading ideas and encouraging each other to try new techniques and designs.

How do you navigate the art world?

Ann: Since the business we sold in 2005 was a technology based firm with no link to the art world at all, navigating the art world is a rather new experience for us. Certainly the aforementioned Artisans Guild and Art League have been more than helpful locally as have the galleries that carry our work. In addition, we have attended a number of classes at the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC. Taught by potters whose work we admire and often discovered in books and online, exposure to this level of craftsmanship is inspiring.

Is there something you are currently working on that you are excited about that you can tell us about?

Russ: We’ve been talking about collaborating on a few things. I’d like to make some bowls and have Ann “dress them up.” Recently Ann has been taking a class with Elizabeth Hunt in slab, coil and pinch pots. As a result, there are new ideas each week after class. Stay tuned!

What’s next? Are you involved in any upcoming shows, workshops? When and where?

Ann: We will be the featured artists at the Red Queen Gallery in Onancock for the Art Walk, 2nd Friday on August 14, 2015. In addition, each year the Artisans Guild sponsors a two day show on the weekend following Thanksgiving and this year our studios will be a featured site for that tour. Of course we are also very excited about the launch of the new Virginia’s Eastern Shore Artisans Trail. You can follow the progress of the launch at

What advice would you give other artists?

Russ: Just like Simon Leach says — “keep practicing!”

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at which fuels your work?

Russ: We constantly refer to books we’ve accumulated. One Ann has recently gotten that has lots of great tips on slab building is From a Slab of Clay by Daryl E. Baird. Ceramic Arts Daily. Ceramic Arts Daily also is a great resource and has an endless stream of videos and books from which to choose.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ann: Pottery is a relatively new part of our lives. We feel like it’s something we can do and continue to explore for many years. We love visitors and love to talk about the fun we are having in the studio. Please visit us at Useful Pots or come by to see us sometime in Onancock.

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In Conversation with Jack Richardson-Landscape Painter, Gallerist on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

June 19, 2015
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On a recent visit to the Eastern Shore I stopped in to see Jack Richardson in his studio/gallery. I met Jack in 2009 on my first visit to the Shore. It’s always a treat to enter his warm and welcoming studio/gallery and to see what he’s working on.

The open, rural and marine nature of the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia has inspired Jack to pursue his interest in landscape painting, mainly done on location, while his studio/gallery allows him to explore his art and to teach.

Jack’s paintings are in collections worldwide and are featured in 100 Plein Air Painters of the Mid-Atlantic.

Jack Richardson before sketches in his studio.

Jack Richardson in his studio

Describe your creative process.

The creative process for me starts with the eyes. We are surrounded with such beauty in terms of color, light, texture etc. that I react to it in a visceral way in the need to document those feelings.

Describe your working routine.

Every place has its time. The most ordinary scenery can come alive with the seasons, time of day, conditions of climate, like covered with snow, early evening, breaking fog, sunrise etc.  As an artist it’s important to realize your muse and be at the right spot at the right time to let it happen. So the process starts when I respond to a scene and know what it is I am responding to. Next step is to capture it with my viewfinder which will tell me which proportions to use as a support for the painting.  Not every scene can be captured meaningfully, and the viewfinder helps determine that.  Usually I have an assortment of canvasses stretched and ready to go.  I primarily use linen as a support with the old- fashioned method of sizing with Rabbit Skin glue and top coated with Winsor & Newton oil ground.

Sometimes I will take digital images of the subject or make a small oil sketch on site to work up into a larger format.  Often I will take the larger canvas to the site and paint right there on the spot, returning sometimes over a period of weeks at the same time each day, and the painting becomes, then, a time study.  One, in particular, measured about 32″ x 48” and took about 6 weeks to complete.  During that time the prime motivator went from full bloom to nothing, but other interesting things were captured growing through the painting; a table and chairs were moved into the space, and they got recorded and sunflower spouted and grew to about 6 feet in height.  This wasn’t a problem because the joy observing and of painting allowed everything to be included.

What do you think is the key elements in creating a good painting?

The key element in creating a good painting is one’s heartfelt response to the subject and the technical ability to know how to make it happen.  This technical ability can’t be underestimated and comes from an understanding of your medium and work, work, work.  Every painting, sonata, pot, photograph etc. is a stepping stone to the next one and hones your understanding of your medium.  If you pay attention to your work, as well as the work of others, over time, your work will mature, and you will get more and more satisfaction from it.  One of the keys is to not negate what you have done, but if it doesn’t quite come up to what you aspire to, put it aside and start a new one.  Without all the lousy work coming forth, there will be no cleared ground for the fresh sprouts of good work to germinate in.  Acuna mattatta baby.

Jack RIchardson in front of unknown painting1

Jack in front of his painting “Salicornia at Assateague”, 40″ x 60″, oil on linen

How has your style changed over the years?

Over the years, I have realized that what I do is OK, no matter what it is.  After all, I do it for myself.  When I was in Art School, (before they invented rocks) lots of my fellow students were making ART, abstract art, intellectual art, organic festering art etc., and I thought I should do the same, so I went ABSTRACT!!,  even though I was a landscape painter.  It was not fun, because I had no idea of what it was I wanted to say.  After a while I gave that up and started painting portraits of my friends, the dog, the model, my visual stimulation. That was it.  Fun, rewarding, and even profitable as portrait commissions came my way. That year I won a prize to travel in Europe, one of the biggest prizes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Needless to say, I am still painting landscapes and the occasional portrait.

How long have you been an artist and how did you get started?

As a kid growing up in rural Maryland and working on a tobacco farm, I had no cultural influences in my family. Even though I loved the music of the church it was forbidden because children had to attend the children’s mass on Sundays.  Only God knows how those children got to sing in the choir because it was unknown in my family.  At around age 17, a neighbor friend showed me a painting he had done on a bed sheet, and I thought that was so cool, so I varnished a sheet onto a piece of cardboard and made a giant painting of a nude woman leaning against a wall. That was the beginning of painting, and later some drawing with another friend and painting on my own in the countryside nearby.  Mom, seeing all this activity, encouraged me to enroll at Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC.  That’s where I came in contact with real art students and real art.  The rest is still going on.

A view of Jack's studio.

A view of Jack’s studio..

How does living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia influence your work?

Living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia has its good points as well as some not so good points.  One has to like FLAT to live here, as it is that.  Either you can paint a horizon or not, and the loblolly pines get to you after awhile, but there is beauty everywhere.  My particular favorite spots are the streams that make their way through the woods with all the underbrush, reflections of sky and leaves and the sense that we all started in this primal wet spot on the planet. The Eastern Shore of Virginia also has deer ticks from which I have had my fair share of Lyme Disease, and still take Chinese herbs to keep it at a reasonable level. In order to paint on location with the tick in mind, I look for spots where I can work from the roadway or other paved surface.

What does having a physical space to make art mean to your process?  Describe your studio space and how, if at all, it affects your work?

My studio is located on a back street in the backwater town of Onancock, VA.  When I first came here, I used the front room with north light to paint in.  Passersby’s would look in the windows and eventually come in and buy paintings.  After a while, other artists wanted to show their work and I agreed, keeping a critical eye for quality, and eventually there was quite a group of talented artists showing here, so it became a Studio/Gallery.  At first it was disconcerting when visitors would make a bee line for someone else’s work, ignoring my splendid efforts.  But, if I admired what the other artists were doing, why would I object when someone else responded to their work?  Eventually I really came to enjoy living and working around all the art being shown in the gallery, and I think it expanded my thinking about my own work.  Through the gallery, I have made friends with a great group of artists and share the space on Friday afternoons by hosting a model for drawing or painting.  Also on Thursdays, I have painting classes in the morning and afternoon.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at those fuels your art?

Music is a great love of my life and has grown from the warhorses to the esoteric.  I was recently at a concert in Philadelphia.  Where the program was 20th century French impressionist Albert Roussel; 20th Century Serge Prokofiev, Francis Poulenc, and Camille Saint-Saëns.  All these pieces were very exciting in ways I’ve never heard before (except the Prokofiev). As an uneducated listener, I’ve enjoyed the programming of WFMT in Chicago, as they have very enlightening  announcers with great comments and insights into the music they are playing and a diverse program.  Opera is also a great influence, and even though I don’t know the words, it’s as though through the singing and emotion, the words are not necessary.  I think opera is to painting as orchestral music is to drawing.

What advice would you give other artists?

My advice to other artists is “do your own thing”!  As the “T-shirt” said, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” You will be influenced, how can you help otherwise; take what you can humbly use and turn it into your own statement.  Some say my sunrise paintings look like Turners, my water paintings look like Monet’s, etc.  Who cares?  It all started in the caves in Europe, and since then, everyone has been copying everyone else.  The difference goes back to one’s heartfelt response to the subject and the technical ability thing.  We have modern materials (which may or may not be an improvement on the past) at our disposal and the whole history of art to bath ourselves in. How can we not be saying something timely?

What’s next?

Next for me is more of the same.  When you’ve found the groove, why change, although I’ve recently been working in charcoal (like a caveman) from the model. I find that a very satisfying medium with great possibilities.  I’m also ready to go outside with the warmer weather and work on large canvases for long stretches of time.

Thank you Jack.

Jack Richardson studied at Corcoran School of Art in Washington DC and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia where he was awarded the highest honor of a Scheidt Scholarship for Study and Travel in Europe in 1971.  He taught painting and drawing through the Division of Education at the Philadelphia Museum of Art before becoming Co-Owner, President and CEO of South Street Art Supply in Philadelphia. He sold the business to his partner in ’86, moved to the Eastern Shore, married, started a family, and continued to paint and to teach. Jack opened his studio-gallery in 2002 called Richardson Gallery located at 24 King Street in the rural, historic town of Onancock, VA.

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