We are pleased to announce that Karen Wilcox is our September Artist of the Month. Karen is a mixed-media artist working in painting, sculpture, and video. She explores feminine wisdom and strength while questioning gender biases. Inspiration for her work comes from religion, myth, feminism, and the subconscious. Below we discuss Karen’s personal background and dive a little deeper into her work. Enjoy!
Prayer Bowl (detail), limited edition bronze, 2.25”x8.25”x8.2”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Was being an artist always a part of your plan?
As a kid, I loved creating my own worlds out of discarded household items and materials I found in the prairie landscape surrounding my home. Being a creator, keen observer, and having a very vivid imagination were intrinsic parts of my character from an early age. I spent hours creating elaborate narratives and characters out of cloth, cardboard, clay—anything I could find—to populate my stories. My parents encouraged me to draw and paint, and eventually I took up photography. I can’t say I actually planned to be an artist—it wasn’t considered by my family to be a viable career. After about twenty years working in the business world, I decided to pursue my dreams, finish my education, and seriously pursue my studio practice.
Prayer Bowl Sequence (video still), 8:37, View 2-minute clip https://vimeo.com/47782559
Describe your art in one word.
You have a mixed-media practice. Can you describe your choice of mediums and the different benefits and challenges associated with them?
I create mixed media painting, sculpture, and video installations. I choose media that best conveys my concept for a particular piece or series of work. My working process is very intuitive, so I like to use media that is malleable and allows me to apply multiple layers and build up the piece over time. I like to leave evidence of my mark making on the surface. Oil paint is very luscious but requires more time to dry. I can achieve more immediate results with oilstick. Bronze is expensive and very time consuming but carries a certain value as a material that has been used for thousands of years. I enjoy painting and drawing on sculptural forms I cast by hand. My work in video is less physical, more experimental. Time-based media certainly has its own challenges. For example, how can I effectively convey meaning by integrating transitory layers of visual imagery and audio elements?
Muse (multiple, wall-hung sculpture), oil and acrylic on Hydrocal, 4”x3”x3” each
What is your creative process?
In spite of what I was taught in most of my art classes, I do not keep a sketchbook for preparatory drawings. Making small drawings in a book stymies my creative process. Instead, I journal about my ideas, then begin to work directly in my chosen media, full scale. Whether it is a lump of oil clay, canvas, or a large piece of paper pinned to the wall and a stick of charcoal, my act of creation begins with the action of my body moving through space: gestures, marks, adding and subtracting material. It takes many hours of experimentation in my studio. It can either be very rewarding or a very frustrating process of discovery: I feel like I’m walking a fine line between functionality (formal as well as conceptual) and intention. And, of course, I take full advantage of those happy accidents that occur in the process!
What themes do you explore through your art?
Dreams, mythology, feminism, inner wisdom, abundance, tribulation.
Is there a cohesive narrative between your bodies of work? Or does each piece stand individually?
Although my materials and means vary, I would say that a thread that pulls all of my work together is my vision to convey a need for more compassion and understanding.
Penitence (video installation at Katherine E. Nash Gallery), mixed media and 3:24 video, 120”x144”x36”
What are you currently working on?
I currently have a video installation entitled “Penitence” in The Women and Money Project exhibition at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery in Minneapolis. I created this piece specifically for the exhibition. I applied hand grated Ivory Soap to the entire surface of a used laundry tub. The installation also includes nine men’s white shirts, a scrap of bedsheet with handwritten text, and a 3-minute video of a woman trying to scrub away the writing from the scrap of fabric. It serves as a metaphor for the lifetimes of women’s unpaid and undervalued domestic labor. The exhibition and related public events will run through December 10.
All images are by Karen Wilcox