Abstract artist Karen Scharer explains why your three-year-old can't paint what she paints

Categories: Art, Q&A

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"Flavors 3," by Karen Scharer
I've heard it a million times. The last time, I was looking at a Kandinsky, minding my own business, when someone behind me chattered to her friend, "Look at that. Ugh. I bet it's worth a million dollars, and my three-year-old could paint it." The truth is, the painting is worth way more than a million dollars. And no three-year-old could have done it -- not even a three-year-old Kandinsky.

Abstract and abstract expressionist painters sometimes get a bad rap since their art doesn't always look like something recognizable. So, in order to better explain their process and why only they could produce the art they do, artist Karen Scharer, whose work is currently showing at Space Gallery, took some time to explain the finer aspects of her abstractions and give an answer to the people who think her work is easy.

What makes your process, as an abstract artist, different than the process of a traditional artist?

When I started painting, my work was very representational. Over time, I became more comfortable with less control and my paintings became more about the mood, the materials, and the overall structure and design, rather than any particular subject or story. It is interesting to me that what has changed in my process is the planning, and not so much the act of painting. My planning now consists of creating a palette that I want to work with and then moving immediately to the work. Working intuitively is so critical to how I paint that I find that level of planning to be limiting rather than helpful.

I guess the short answer to your question is that the key differences between my process and more traditional content work, at least if I were doing the more traditional content work, are that my process involves less planning and more intuition. Technical concepts -- color, composition, contrast, variety, balance, line, shape -- are all still critical in my work if I am going to achieve my objectives. In fact, I think those things are perhaps even more critical than in representational work.

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"February Wetlands," by Karen Scharer
Is there a way to "read" your piece -- are abstract pieces more open for interpretation, in your opinion?

I definitely think abstract work is more open to interpretation and as far as I'm concerned, my pieces are totally up for grabs. I've done pieces that were very organic and for me had a natural foundations, and people have said, "Oh, that's really industrial." Everyone brings their own experience, and when you don't tell people what the subject of your painting is, you the the risk that they'll see it a different way. But, that's also an opportunity, because you give people the chance to see what they want.

It can make me nuts if people say, "That's an elephant," and there's not an elephant near it, but that's the experience people bring to the work, and that's part of it. If I put a visible tree, I could sell a lot more work, because people like to have something to hang their hat on, but then it wouldn't be my work, so I don't go there.

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Space Gallery

400 Santa Fe Dr., Denver, CO

Category: General

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