-Karen, we'd love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today, both personally and as an artist.
I loved painting and drawing as a child and grew up thinking that I wanted to be an artist. However, I took a different path in college and studied Graphic Design, which I thought was more practical. I graduated and worked as a Graphic Designer for about 5 years and then transitioned into User Experience Design and Research, where I worked full-time for about 6 years helping to build websites, apps, software, etc.
In late 2019, I felt the urge to paint after not picking up a brush for nearly 15 years. When the pandemic started a few months later, I was still working full-time, but I suddenly found myself with a lot more free time at home. I painted more and fell back in love with it. At the beginning of 2021, I decided to leave my full-time job. Since then, I've split my time between making art and freelancing in tech.
-How do you pull a woman’s identity out onto the canvas?
My goal is not necessarily to represent an individual woman's identity or personality. I want my paintings to express some aspect of being a woman. I want viewers of all genders to reflect on how femininity resonates with them. What feeling does my painting conjure for them? Each painting puts me in the mindset of some aspect of femininity – strength, serenity, confidence, mystery, etc.
-What advice would you give on knowing when and how to share your work, and when not to.
Sometimes I regret the fact that I spent so many years away from making art. But, there are some advantages to becoming a working artist in your 30s – namely, you don't care as much about other peoples' opinions. I'm happy to share my work whenever and however. I know it's not for everyone; there is only a small percentage of people who will really love it and an even smaller percentage who will collect it. And that is totally okay.
My advice is to not base your decisions on other peoples' perceptions but rather based on your own time and sanity. Getting your work out into the world takes time and effort. Only invest your energy in opportunities that you think will serve you well.
-Do you think the role of artists has changed considering everything that is going on in the world today, especially concerning women?
I don't really know as I've only been an artist for about 3 years as an adult. But, I am aware that women have been (and still are) underrepresented in the art world. Only when all genders are recognized as intellectual and creative equals – as full humans with the same complex, rich, and expansive inner worlds – will we begin to see parity in the art world.
I paint women because I feel an inherent kinship with them. I am drawn to understanding how we have each uniquely shaped ourselves from similar clay – not only a shared biology, but also a shared sense of moving through a world that both celebrates and degrades us.
I am most interested in depicting women in moments of introspection and reflection. I wish to capture the gaze turned inward, seeking inner strength and satisfaction. In the cases where my muse’s gaze meets yours, I want you to recognize the complex identity that is rooted deep within her.
My oil paintings juxtapose photorealism with elements of abstraction and reflective materials such as copper, gold leaf, and platinum leaf. As light interacts with the different surfaces, it breathes a liveliness and mutability into each piece. The image is never the same, transforming as you look at it from different angles and under changing light.
My hope is not to depict beauty for beauty’s sake, but rather as a tool to capture your attention and free your mind to wander. When you see a beautifully painted hand, for example, you admire the texture of the skin, the fine wrinkles of the knuckles, the hint of veins beneath the surface. As you look more closely, your thoughts may turn to imagine what these hands have touched, and how these hands will age, what they will feel and grasp and create.
When you see my work, I hope that the beauty of the shifting light and the human figure draws you in. I hope that you lean in, look more closely, and in those moments begin to see reflections of your own understanding of femininity and the human experience.
Karen Remsen is a Chicago-based artist creating paintings with oil and precious metals such as gold and platinum leaf. Her work centers on exploring the multifaceted nature of female power and identity. Combining paint with reflective materials, her work also explores the beauty and complexity of light as it moves over a surface and changes throughout the day. Karen is a self-taught artist who rediscovered painting in 2020 after a hiatus of nearly 15 years. She has exhibited across the country in galleries that champion imaginative realism and contemporary figurative work.