Tell us a little bit about yourself. You are a professor at MCC, an exhibiting artist, guest curator of various exhibitions, how do all of these things relate?
My teaching and my work as a practicing artist have always been intertwined. I am a full time faculty at Monroe Community College in the Visual and Performing Arts Department. I teach Painting, Drawing and Design. The work that I do in the studio/classroom is an extension of the explorations in my own studio. It is a symbiotic relationship… I pass on what I have learned as an artist to my students and my students inspire me with their interest and enthusiasm. Being in the studio/classroom everyday feels like home… the ongoing desire to communicate and create is infectious, and it is wonderful to see it in the students. As a teaching artist I get to be involved with art at all levels and my work as a curator feeds into that. Conceptualizing and organizing exhibitions is a way to continue the dialog as an artist. I am able to see other artist’s work and have the opportunity to put artists together in a way that allows for interesting interactions between the works. It is a different kind of creative effort that is equally as satisfying. The exhibitions that are a result shed new light on artist’s work, and I am able to be a part of that artistic process.
Give us a little formal information on your paintings. What media do you use? Why have you preferred paper over canvas?
I began working on paper when finding time to work became a challenge. I was teaching, had a small child and was working very consistently in the studio. I began using acrylic paint when I was pregnant with my son because I didn’t want to deal with some of the toxic materials that were part of the oil painting process. I discovered then that my natural approach to technique was very spontaneous and the fast drying time of acrylics just seemed to work for me. The more rigid surface of the paper that was tacked up to a board had just the right give for me. I could develop layers and work very quickly. I began to manage the transparency of the paint and also worked with an interaction of forms within the layers that created the spatial effect that is typical in my work.
You mentioned before that you were thinking of making a move back to working on canvas, what prompted that?
Well, I do miss the character of oil paint… the surfaces that have a more tactile quality. The feel of the paint on the brush and the way the paint engages with the canvas is an aspect of the process that is very seductive. It takes much more time, but it may be workable again. I am also finding that the scale and the difficulty of moving my works on paper around is getting to be an issue… not to mention the cost of framing such large-scale work.
Tell me about the prints you have been making. How do you see them in regards to your paintings?
When my husband passed away suddenly, I stopped making work for a while. I knew that I needed to try to find a way to get back into the studio and had been thinking about the monoprinting process. I found a technique that was very direct using water-based inks, and that was that. I spent a whole winter making prints without the thought of showing them… I really just wanted to explore and work through some of the emotions that I was experiencing without thinking about how what I was doing related to my other work. I realize now that they had a very direct relationship, and the paintings that I am doing now come partly from the place that I got to making those prints. I can see myself devoting more time to that process, but when I began painting again the decision always is…what do I do first, and it comes back down to getting the paints out and jumping in.
Can you talk a bit about the symbolism in your work? What themes seem to materialize? Do you notice a trend in your work over the years?
For me, the ambiguous space of the imagery eliminates a specific place or time. Forms like knots and branches, or anatomical references for example, are pulled from a visual lexicon of forms that speak to me. They suggest something… they allude to aspects of my experience and become a shorthand that encapsulates thoughts and feelings, and arranges them together in ways that I may not have envisioned. I feel as if I am tapping into a collective database that, when shaken up a bit, sheds new light on my personal experiences. It may also relate to the experiences of others, and I rely on that connection to draw viewers into my work.
Nature is typically a source for me because I can use forms that seem familiar, something that one might see in the natural world. When those forms are paired with invented forms, or maybe more man-made forms, the relationships are questioned, and, as I mention in my artist statement, those new configurations challenge preconceived notions of function and meaning.
If there is a thread that works its way through my work I would have to say that I do rely on forced relationships between forms, and tend to create an ambiguous spatial field for them to exist in. It is not a representational environment in any sense, because I feel that moving out of a comfort zone allows one to experience the way being open and aware can lead to new realizations about themselves, the world… the human potential for discovery. Since I never have a plan for what will happen when I approach a new work I have to trust my instincts and accept what comes. When I am totally immersed in my work, and, on a good day, I can experience a connection to the world that is totally satisfying. I hope that happens for my viewers.
What will you be working on next?
That is a good question. I never make plans in regard to my work, at least not specifically. I may work on canvas again. I will probably make more monoprints. I will continue my process until I discover that there may be another approach that serves me just as well.
You can see more of Karen’s work on her website: www.karensardisco.com
Four of Karen’s paintings are on display in Main Street Arts’ current group show, The Opposite of Concrete: An Exhibition of Abstract Painting and Photography. Stop by this Saturday (September 6th) from 4-7pm for the opening reception!
Check out our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio post, by painter Sarah Sutton.