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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Interview with Mary Farmer – Asheville Encaustic Artist

May 15, 2015
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Mary Farmer is an accomplished and passionate artist whose journey with encaustic painting began in the 1990s. I recently visited Mary in her studio.

Mary Farmer in her studio.

Mary Farmer in her studio.

Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in”. It is the oldest form of painting in use today, and one that has always fascinated me.  Mary melts beeswax adds color pigments, creates a paste then when molten applies the mixture to a panel. Her command of the medium is evidenced in her luminous and sensuous surfaces and her seductive approach to color. She creates a sense of depth and texture in her paintings that is unlike any other medium.

Walking into Mary’s studio is like walking into an alchemist laboratory. There is an eclectic mix of frying pans full of wax, tins ablaze with colored wax and harnessed with clothes pins; heat guns, many pounds of beeswax, hand torches and her in-process paintings.

How do you navigate the art world?

Mary: I actively participate with the galleries who represent me–I deliver on time, I keep their inventory updated, I have shows when asked, etc.

I love cultural events, plays, museum shows, and musical events. I went to Paris in February to see Sonia Delaunay’s long overdue retrospective and I plan see the Frida Kahlo exhibition that will examine Kahlo’s appreciation for the beauty and variety of the natural world, as evidenced by her home and garden as well as the complex use of plant imagery in her artwork at the NY Botanical Gardens. I have already been to her home outside Mexico City and seen those gardens.

Recently, I’ve decided to blog (had a very successful blog, The Steinberg Farmer Report, with Gail Steinberg in Northern California) again. It was fun, I enjoyed doing the research and I look forward to the new release any day now.

Not What It Used to Be, encaustic on panel, 38" x  30" Mary Farmer -Interlacing flowers are intricate. Pretty and highly feminine; they make me feel lavish, even special. They are also angelic yet slightly devilish what with all that twisting and twining. It gives a taste of what’s underneath but not the whole thing; that mystery is always a good thing.

Not What It Used to Be, encaustic on panel, 38″ x 30″ Mary Farmer – Interlacing flowers are intricate. Pretty and highly feminine; they make me feel lavish, even special. They are also angelic yet slightly devilish what with all that twisting and twining. It gives a taste of what’s underneath but not the whole thing; that mystery is always a good thing.

Describe your working routine.

Mary: The two questions I answer as I begin each painting are: what do I want to say or paint and how am I going to get there? Thus begins my studio day.

What (What?) am I thinking about? Is it pink tones of a beach sunset, dappled light in a forest, or fleshy light reflected from a firm rump? How will I express these thoughts in a well-executed piece of art?

Will I struggle? Will I engage in battle with the piece? Is it a fight to the death? Probably not, since as painters we are the luckiest of humans to get to paint and make art. How cool is that? It’s my job to paint. Each day I wrap my head around “Art is my job” as a guiding principle.

Then the process kicks in. Just how do I make art? Simply put, I am dedicated to my studio practice and embrace each step of my art making process. It all begins with solitude. It is my belief that arranging the mental space and accepting that I absolutely need time to think about my work is a major force in my creative process. Without it, I flounder and flop about.

When given proper time to think, ponder, question and debate, I tread a much smoother path to the How? Beginning, facing that bare panel or that white surface can be the most daunting of tasks (it’s almost as difficult as “Is the piece finished?”). As I begin, I shed any notion of where this will end; else I get tangled up in silly bits. This is discovery and I become willing to take the journey and find the outcome.

I do not preordain the outcome.

As I work new questions always pop up and sometimes, those queries require me to back up a few paces to consider what is being asked of me. For example: am I happy with the depth, do I need more going on between the layers, will a glaze work here and how’s the surface holding?

Then, you are speeding along, fusing with glee — and boom, you hit a snag. You slam right into some painterly quandary. Aren’t you glad you took the time, upfront, to think about the work on your table? This early prep always helps me overcome panic and sanely address the difficulty: is it too light, is there enough paint, does the passage work, is it stagnant, is it too floral, and is it not floral Enough and so on.

Yes, there is the occasional “accidental opportunity.” We all get a few of them in our painter’s lifetime. You cannot count on them to pull you out of trouble day after day. It won’t happen. Many non-painters believe that we do just that: go into the studio, sling paint and a masterpiece suddenly appears. You and I know it ain’t so.

It’s here where I take a breath, take some long looks at my painting and assess what’s going on. I begin to formulate answers to these questions:

  • What am I compelled to look at, where does my eye stop?
  • Why do I care?
  • Am I doing a proper job of executing this work?
  • Is there a construction problem with the composition?
  • Are my perspectives shifting appropriately?
  • Am I able to embrace the process or have I too tight a grip on the outcome?

As I explore the answers to these questions, I am able to rein in my wandering focus. No short cuts here. If I disregard any piece of this I’m probably going to fail. This means I’ll be scraping off layer after layer of wax because I would not fully engage, or sometimes I just feel smarter than the process. Again, it ain’t so. It’s so liberating to reject indecision and press on with the luxurious indulgence of moving the paint into a piece of work that makes you feel like, “I’ve done it.”

Is there something you are currently working on, excited about?

Mary: Yes! I have moved from my ethereal florals to a more impressionistic landscape. I have been stewing over my work for several months; it has to do with seeking protected and sheltered spaces. For a personal development project I’ve been mining the past and have discovered that my work revolves around the creation of a space that is liberated, unassailable and welcoming. I want the viewer to feel secure, seek sanctuary and know they are free from the daily fray in this space.

Endless Possibilities, Encaustic on panel, 40" x 40", 2015,  Mary Farmer

Endless Possibilities, Encaustic on panel, 40″ x 40″ , 2015, Mary Farmer

What advice to give other artists?

Mary: Make your own work, make the best work you can and continue to challenge yourself.  Make sure to show up everyday.

Why did I choose encaustics?

Mary: Initially, I thought oil painting was my calling. During my last year at Georgia State I was able to design my own semester (I had exhausted all the other painting classes) and wanted to develop my (you how it when you are sick of art school) work. During a final critique it was suggested that my painting was too good. I know! It sounded ridiculous to me, too. The committee wanted me to expand and grow, they felt I had reached a high level and wouldn’t challenge myself.

I had to find a new medium to explore and develop for myself. At that time few were working with encaustic. I’d heard about it, been introduced to it via a gallery friend and thought, “What the heck?”

So I set myself up in a studio to work out the details of painting with wax. I was so amazed by the depth, luminosity and fusing aspect. It hooked me right off; I had been glazing and thinning oil paint in an attempt to get the depth I suddenly was able to achieve with encaustic. It hits you like that – it’s like you’ve been put under the spell of Stupefyin’ Jones. Nothing would stop me from using this wax paint. That was 15 or so years ago and I’m still enthralled by encaustic.


Mary Farmer studio1



Encaustic tools



Wax on heater Mary Farmer studio

Mary’s studio table together with pans of wax pigments and a large fry pan full of beeswax.

Every time I teach I see the same thing – someone becomes captivated by encaustic paint.

It’s damn exciting to fire up a butane or propane torch and make art; knowing how much or how little heat to apply keeps me sharp. There is little margin for error when the flames are present. I can safely say, “Pfffftt! and your painting is lost.”

Mary’s painting journey began early 1990s in Atlanta GA where she studied at Atlanta College of Art and Georgia State University. Her final year at Georgia State, under the tutelage of Cheryl Goldsleger, is the turning point where Mary gave up oil painting and focused on working with encaustics. Upon graduation from Georgia State, Mary moved to Northern California where she became a founding member of West Coast Encaustic Artists (now IEA). Since her move to Asheville NC in 2008, she happily paints amid the majestic Smoky Mountains.

Mary’s work can be found at these galleries. And, you can follow her on Instagram.

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Interview with Lee Wolfe Asheville Potter Extraordinaire

April 27, 2015
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As a painter I am drawn to Lee Wolfe’s colorful and delicious ceramics. She has been wildly successful in selling her pottery exclusively online. I am pleased that she has taken time from her busy schedule for this interview.

Lee Wolfe Asheville NC Potter

Lee Wolfe Asheville NC Potter

Lee has been a studio potter for 35 years. Her ceramic work emerges from the organic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains where she lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Lee’s work is vibrant, unusual and exploratory with voluptuous forms and woodland creatures. She creates beautiful, original functional stoneware pottery dinnerware, serving and home décor pieces. After all these years, her greatest joy is to enter her studio with a head full of new ideas.

Arabesque serving bowl by Lee Wolfe

Arabesque Serving Bowl by Lee Wolfe

Why did you choose ceramics?

Lee: I came to pottery making the way good friends come into your life; you begin a conversation that never seems to end. There is always something more you could say. As the years go by, the relationship deepens until it’s an integral part of who you are. But there was no moment when I chose to be a potter as a lifelong career. I just started and didn’t quit.

At first it was a hobby I pursued while teaching middle school in upstate NY. The school had a ceramic studio in which I made sculptural pottery in my spare time, storing pieces in the teacher’s lounge. Other teachers asked to buy pieces, and then their friends asked, and then one week I made more money not trying to sell my work than I’d made from my paycheck.

What is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

Lee: The best part of my work is that most of it happens in a state of flow (“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) or optimal experience. I’ve had to reject 90% of the wisdom people offer about how to manage a profitable business because I’ve made keeping the experience of flow my number one priority, not to be sacrificed for profit or prestige. That’s really just a high minded way of saying what most potters say: “I just wanna make pots.”

The most challenging part is the high level of chemistry required to formulate and fire functional pottery and achieve the aesthetic appeal of your inner vision. My prototypes are in development for literally years, struggling to get the look I want along with something that functions as intended and is also food safe and durable.

Arabesque dinnerware place setting by Lee Wolfe

Arabesque Dinnerware Place Setting by Lee Wolfe

How does living in Asheville influence your art?

Lee: The sheer number of galleries was a vital support for me before I sold online. And the creative culture, pervasive throughout the city and surrounding area, is warm and welcoming. But most of all, the mountains and woodland creatures infuse my work with totemic symbolism.

What inspires you?

Lee: I’m driven by a discontent and rebellion against those soulless objects manufactured in oppressive working environments for corporate profit with which we are supposed to serve lovingly prepared food, create and celebrate meaningful family traditions, and gift to people we love. I love pushing the boundaries of my own skills and imagination as a designer and maker. Since the words “handmade” and “artisan” have been co-opted by industrial manufacturers, I enjoy the quirks in shape and glaze that could not be easily copied and reproduced in molds.

What are you working on in the studio right now?

Lee: My newest series is Arabesque, thrown vessels altered into a quatrafoil shape. I’m exploring the way nesting bowls of this shape radiate in arrows outward, and the way they create interesting negative shapes in side by side placement.

Neon Sea Nesting Bowl Set by Lee Wolfe

Neon Sea Nesting Bowl Set by Lee Wolfe

What advice would you give other artists?

Lee: I’d like to advise older artists and artisans to seriously investigate the new frontier of online art sales. I’ve found an unprecedented freedom in being able to design, make and list for sale what I want in the present without line sheets, gallery buyers, or someone else’s perception of  deserving.

I would advise young and emerging artists to use the freedom to market trough social media and e-commerce sites with wild abandon.

Thank you Lee!

Follow Lee on Instagram to view more of her work, read her poetic writings about life, her process and finished pottery, and to stay current on here restock dates.

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Up Close with Pat Phillips, Contemporary Asheville Goldsmith

April 2, 2015
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Here is the first in a series of artist interviews to give you a peek into the many ways art is made. The interviews are a celebration of creative work done by passionate people in all sorts of different spaces along with their working processes that reveals each artist’s aesthetic and perspective.

First up,  Patricia Phillips. I first met Pat when I stepped into her studio in the River Arts District Asheville. She is warm, dynamic and engaging and  is a goldsmith artist, creating one-of-a-kind works. Her metals are an outgrowth of her larger wall relief sculptures. Her art works speak of a strength and power. She is happy to share her understanding and excitement for the arts with others.

Pat Phillips at work in her Asheville studio


How does living in Asheville, NC influence your art?

Pat: Living in Asheville gives an artist three things that you don’t have in most areas. The first is a very rich history of crafts and fine art which is both inspiring while supporting an audience appreciative of the arts. Second are the number of really fine artists working which creates a very high standard to live up to and a great supportive network of artists to interact with. Third is the natural beauty of the area. When you live in a truly beautiful area you want to make beautiful things.

What advice would you give other artists?

Pat: Become a doctor! Only kidding but you do have to ask yourself “How are you going to pay for the luxuries in life? Like food and a roof over your head.” The best way to be creative is to make each work from your gut and inner spirit without having to be concerned about its marketability.  With each work be true to yourself and you will make better works. Try not to be influenced by wondering if it is going to sell or if others are going to like it.

Pat Phillips samples of beautiful jewelry

Samples of Pat Phillips’ beautiful contemporary jewelry

Why do you choose to work in silver/metals?

Pat: I come from a wall relief sculpture background and still make wood wall relief sculptures which are painted with encaustics. The metals, while still satisfying my sculpture needs, are a way for me to work small and on a more personal level with people. After all they will be putting them on their body and wearing them in public. 00

What is your creative process like? Tell us about your techniques.

Pat: My creative process begins with an idea I want to communicate. In order for a work of art to be successful, it must first have a sound conceptual background.  It is important to encourage the viewer to think about the issues addressed in the work.
With the metals it is very important to me to not use any prefabricated units but make everything in the tradition of true goldsmithing. All my work is created from a sheet of silver and/or wire. In some cases very ancient techniques are used dating back as much as 5,000 years. All chains and clasp are hand-wrought as I feel it is important to keep these techniques alive.
What is your working routine?

Pat: I have found that it is very important to keep regular studio hours each day as opposed to waiting to be inspired. If you have a set time and go into the studio creativity will come. It is important to have a place to work where you can leave your materials setup and ready. I address my studio time with respect and discipline setting goals for each day.

Pat Phillips’ work has been featured in numerous solo, two-person and juried group exhibitions throughout the eastern United States including six one-person shows in New-York City. Pat’s March 2000 show at the Walter Wickiser Gallery in NY received a favorable review in Art News. She holds a Masters of Fine Art from Florida State University with a focus on painting and sculpture. Pat served on the Florida Arts Counsel and has appeared as a guest speaker for them. She has participated on the Visual Arts Center of Panama City Board of Directors and served as Exhibition Chairman for five years.

She has judged and juried numerous select art shows in Florida. While her work focuses on jewelry, painting and sculpture, she has a diverse background in the crafts and art history. She has taught art history and the crafts including metalsmithing on the college level for sixteen years. She is a participating member of the Florida Society of Goldsmiths.

Pat’s studio is located at The Pink Dog Creative Dog Creative, 342 – 348 Depot Street | Asheville, NC 28801

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