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.
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.
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.
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.
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.