Karen MarstonArtist

Brooklyn, NY, United States
I have recently returned to an image I first painted twenty years ago during the Kuwait war: the oil fire. When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, I was struck by the eerily familiar, terrifyingly dramatic image of these apocalyptic towers of black smoke and fire. Columns of smoke became an external manifestation of a certain post 9/11 zeitgeist, a jittery mood of fear, awaiting ever more sudden, unpredictable episodes of destruction, part of a growing litany of frightening disasters consuming the world around us—volcanoes, tornadoes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, global warming, war upon war. I see these events on a continuum of our experience of the natural environment, part of the whole fabric of our landscape.
Painting outdoors, absorbed in peaceful, beautiful scenes, capturing the immediacy of nearby landscapes has also been very influential. Not exactly disparate, the dark shadows in the woods and the forming clouds hint at destructive power, while the oil fires are as gorgeous as they are deadly. Exploring the subtle movements of the light and sky, the colors, shapes and emotional tenor of a particular place in the moment has informed and deepened my studio work year round. I am as equally influenced by the history of awe inspired landscape painting (from Turner’s storms to Church’s icebergs), as by the stream of violent images in our daily news feed, as well as the direct dialog with nature and organic form fed from painting plein air; for me it is all connected.


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As part of my current exploration of disasters, I have focused on tornadoes. Blurring the line between natural and manmade disasters, our influence on our climate has enlarged these phenomena beyond their natural proportions. I am mesmerized by the power of elemental threats like fire and storm, bigger and more frightening than ever, amplified rather than tamed by modernity.
Tornado 1

Date :

Medium : Painting, (Oil on Canvas)

Dimensions : 36

Availability : No



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My work examines the narrativity of 21st century representational technologies and questions the hybrid nature of identity, where virtual and real embodiments of self diverge and intersect. I feel akin to past and contemporary artists and writers who uncannily deconstruct rigid notions of reality and perception. The extension of this sensibility with computer-based applications is only natural to me as a reflection upon the Digital Age in which we all coexist
My photographs reconstruct sites where anticipation and possibility have accumulated as the artifacts of future experience and discovery of place. They are records of a substitution of anticipation for experience. I use drawings in my constructed landscapes as both starting point and object in the image, combined with found objects which also appear as items collected from a possible location. The photographs are built within the context of natural and man made structures, and scientific explanations of natural phenomena. My photographs reduce the colossal and long-enduring formations to fragile and transitory symbols and offer only glimpses.

I'm using the analog photography process because anticipation is inherent in this silver nitrate process. The latent image that exists on the unprocessed film, and the wait in the darkroom for the image to appear are natural extensions into process of the theme of anticipation in my work. The monochrome palette furthers the idea of a glimpse into possibility by reduction to shapes and symbols and simultaneously connecting to a history of truth and document.
In my paintings I use the figure to represent certain emotional states. By employing allegory I shift the focus beyond any one particular person and towards a more universal situation.

I am not really concerned with painting an observed reality. The cinema and its narrative devices are more significant to me. Sometimes I paint a similar image or scene over and over, changing colors, angles and gestures. Formal issues and how they too affect the perception and emotional resonance of an image are also important in my work.
Enchanted Island

The Enchanted Island series depicts fantastical landscapes and scenery relating to feelings and memories I hold of the country where I grew up: Puerto Rico.

Re-imagined landscapes, nature that emerges from a world that "could be", mashing together realities with unrestrained strangeness. Fanciful and banana/palm tree plants carry mythologies of "puertorricaness" that are ingrained in the "guineo" or banana; anywhere from economic wealth from yesteryear's Puerto Rico, to the "Amapola" flower's perceived sexual virility that goes beyond the island. Here the palm trees and brand stickered bananas give a glimpse into the new realities of global capitalism and juxtaposes a pristine idea of nature with the new world of GMO's. Could a banana growing palm tree be the next trademarked food? In my piece "Palma bruja" it's already possible.

Effervescent, bright, alive, are words that I think of when I ponder (with melancolía) the life I led as a child so many years ago.

Memory if left long enough, holds in it either our best life experiences or the worse, eventually with time, these memories are broken down into feelings and flashes of remembrances that become a life story. Fantastical histories come out of this space.

Memory itself can be fickle, fleeting, grasping, even moldable, outputting to the best of it's abilities what we want (or dread) to remember. Sometime we replace that which is into manufactured memories, glossing over what is "real" and into our imaginations. - What is reality anyway? But a series of memories put together on the fly constructed into a hasty story.
I long for the freshness of the ripened fruit brewing in the backyard or especially from the local "verdurero" who was a staple at every "vecindario" driving in circles yelling with his "auto parlante": "Aguacates, ñames, guineos fresquesitos, cocos, tomates…" Now, most of my consumption of bananas don't ever-ever come from the island.

So I return hungry, once every two, three or five years and if I'm lucky, eat guineos manzanos, freshhh.

My work is based on the transformation of random ephemera gathered from the everyday. Through the process of transformation the original meaning of the object changes. The mundane, that served a particular function at one time or another, is given place and reverence. It transcends its identity.

The selection of all found objects reference time, space or human interaction – they become part of a sort of “philosophical anthropology.” These objects are chosen because they hold deeper connections to people or places regardless of their external importance. Transforming them is an act of shifting the energy that they hold, similar to a shamanistic practice. The finished piece becomes a tool in a larger language and often references anything from artifact, fetish, healing object to an arcane language. I use many different materials such as wax, entrails, plaster, paint, thread and fabric. I combine the old with the new. The hand is evident upon things mass-produced and machine made. Craftsmanship is a byproduct of my meditative and intuitive approach.

I like to think of the work and myself as taking the everyday world as a starting point. David Hume states that expectation of one thing following another does not lie in the things themselves, but in the mind. And expectation is associated with habit. The child perceives the world as it is without putting more into things than he experiences.
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