Monday, February 15, 2010

Interview with painter Karen Appleton, I

Melt © Karen Appleton, reproduced by permission

Karen Appleton, whose artwork you can find online at, paints gift-wrapped presents, and the profusion of color and exuberance found in ribbons and bows. We conversed by email as I prepared to write about her work, and she shared what she loves about painting, how she approaches a painting, and how she approaches composition.

"I love everything about painting," she writes. "I love the smell of the oils, the feel of a big blob of paint as it smears on the canvas, I love sketching out ideas, mixing piles of gorgeous color – everything.

"But I am crazy about observation, especially observing color. I am fascinated with how our brains perceive and interpret color, especially as it wraps around form. I enjoy playing close attention to the variety of colors that actually make up what we perceive as only one. Seeing how this variety of color breaks apart into abstract shapes, or pieces like a puzzle, and how they fit together to form the object is beautiful to me, and I really enjoy playing this up in my paintings."

You can see how this comes into play in her painting Melt, above, and in a detail below, with its profusion of ribbons.

detail, Melt © Karen Appleton, reproduced by permission

"I also enjoy working from life – it is a very important part of my process. It requires me to slow down and focus all attention on observing an object in an environment that slightly changes throughout the day. So a painting becomes a selection of the most beautiful colors as they change from day to night, and day by day. I'm not capturing a moment in time, but many moments in time, which is exciting to me."

Here you can see how Karen Appleton arranges a still life setup, with the composition of a new painting drawn out in charcoal on the canvas beside it.

Asked about her approach to her subject matter, she wrote, " A painting always starts with an idea of feeling. Usually an idea is inspired by an experience – a jog in the snow, a crowded train, signs of spring, etc. I automatically think of these experiences in terms of color, shape, and texture. Snow might be a heavy white velvet ribbon, ice might be a shiny silver stick-on bow. With the ribbons and bows I recreate the visual experience, but I'm also attempting to describe how that visual experience felt."

Icicles © Karen Appleton, reproduced by permission

"I find that an object's shape or positioning in a composition can be very helpful in expressing a feeling. Any object can be expressive, but for me, ribbons can be shaped or arranged to reach up or out to the viewer; they can flop over, feel heavy, droop, bend, or bounce; they can pile on top of each other; they can almost touch, or completely intertwine together.

"I also adore the entire process of actually creating the image I'm going to paint. I chose the colors and shapes that will contribute to the feeling of the painting. It's almost like building a little stage, picking the actors, deciding costumes and lighting, and writing the script."

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