giovedì 19 marzo 2009

Interview with Karena A Karras

q)What is your name?

a)My name is Karena A Karras but some people know me as Karan which is a name that I used in the 1990's. Karan is the only name that the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, who was a good friend of mine while she lived near me in Oak Park, knows me by.

q)Where do you live and work?

a)I have lived in Chicago, Illinois my entire life and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There are times when I think of moving to another place far away from any city, but family and my art keeps me here for the time being. Chicago is where I both live and work on my paintings although my work is shown in other parts of the world.

q)What is your creative process like?

a)When doing a painting I usually begin with an image of the completed painting in my mind’s eye. From that image I do a rough thumbnail sketch, after which, I go straight to a freshly gessoed board and begin a drawing, or I will do a more refined sketch onto tracing paper and play with it a bit until I feel it is just so. At that point, I will transfer it to a board and begin to paint. The only time that I deviate from this approach is when I am doing a painting using a technique call “decalcomania” which is the name for a painting technique coined by the surrealist painter Max Ernst. I begin by covering the entire surface of a gessoed board with one color that is quite fluid. Before the paint begins to dry I use a variety of materials to “lift” areas of the paint back up and off of the surface, leaving behind a pattern of sorts. I might do this several times before I have a pattern that I can use with dark and light areas. Then, I look at the pattern on the board until I begin to see an image of some sort emerge. I then add color to define certain areas and bring them out to the surface. I continue to do this to as much of the area of decalcomania as possible before adding any other elements of my own. The painting “Heiros Gamos” on the cover of my book “Mirror Realms” was done with this technique. The book “Mirror Realms” was done in collaboration with the Surrealist UK poet Anthony Pritchard, and has been given a wonderful review that can be read online at

q)What is your favorite medium?

a)Oil paint is my preferred medium though I will at times use acrylic paint. Oil paint has an almost otherworldly luminosity that is nearly impossible to achieve with acrylic or any other type of paint.

q)What is your current favorite subject?

a)My favorite subject is the female form as it is combined or connected with other elements in nature, such as animals, plants, earth and sky, as each is inherently part and parcel of the other and quite inseparable. So, one can say that my favorite subject is nature and the interconnectedness of all things.

q)How long does it take for you to finish a piece?

a)It depends on the size of the piece and the number of elements that will be present in the finished painting. Generally speaking, it takes me a few days to finish a piece from my 4” by 6” miniature portrait series. I am in the process of working on a series of 100 miniature surreal portraits of women which I do a few of in between each of my larger paintings. A medium painting can take me several weeks if I work on it steadily and larger paintings with more elements take several months to complete.

q)What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?

a)As far as my paintings are concerned, my biggest accomplishment so far is a painting called “The Dinner Party” (40” by 60”) I did for a recent solo show. It is an oil painting of a group of hybrid bird women at a macabre feast of sorts eating everything from butterfly wings to their own eggs. The show also included miniature surreal portraits of each of the dinner guests amidst some of my other works.

As far as media coverage, I feel that my biggest accomplishment to date has been having my 2005 solo show at a gallery in Chicago's 'River North' gallery district picked by the Chicago Sun Times newspaper art and architecture critic, Kevin Nance, as one of the “Top Ten Cultural Events” of 2005 in the City of Chicago.

And, as far as personal accomplishments, I would have to say that the book “MirrorRealms” is my most satisfying accomplishment to date. 'MirrorRealms' has 37 of my paintings printed in full color with many marvelous poems by the UK surrealist poet Anthony Pritchard. 'MirrorRealms' can be purchased online at along with a number of other books by poet Anthony Pritchard.

q)Are there any contemporary artists that you love?

a)Yes, there are certain artists whose work I greatly admire. Just to mention a few there is the work of Otto Rapp, Ton Haring, Santiago Ribeiro, Heinz Zander, Steven Hazard, Allison Hill, Yakeiban Shukusha, Oleg Korolev, Pavel Bergr, Vladimir and Daniela Ovtcharov, Carrie Ann Baade, Odd Nerdrum, Madeline Von Foerster, James Mesple, Dorethea Tanning and of course Leonora Carrington to name only a few.

q)Can we purchase your art anywhere?

a)My original paintings can be purchased from whichever gallery I am showing in at the time of inquiry, or directly from me via my web site: Also, in Europe my work can be purchased online from the Artbay gallery in the UK. Their web site is . I am currently doing a series of original pen and ink drawings solely for the Artbay gallery, and they are also doing very high quality giclees of most of my paintings. They are also putting images from my paintings on Staffordshire porcelain mugs that sell online by request in sets.

q)Anything that people should know about that we don’t?

a)Perhaps, but I prefer to keep the veil of mystery intact.

q)What is your best piece of advice for those who would like to rise in their level of artistry?

a)Do not waiver, make art your priority and the most important thing in your world, the world in which your most feared demons and most revered ideologies wind their way through. Strive towards bringing out the highest and best within yourself through your work. Eat, drink and breathe your work.

q)What inspires you to keep going when the work gets frustrating or tough?

a)The worst part of doing a painting is starting one. This is when I feel the most frustration. Then again, towards the end of working on a piece it gets a bit hard doing the last few finishing touches. At the beginning the inspiration to move on comes from the fear of stagnation, of an existence devoid of the creative process. This spurs me on to move forward along with, as mentioned earlier, seeing the entire piece finished in my mind’s eye which helps greatly. Towards the end of doing a painting when I begin to feel as though it will never be finished, it is the frustration with not already being done with it that pushes me on.

q)How do you describe your work to those who are unfamiliar with it?

a)I try not to. People really need to see the work up close. Much of the time I work with 18/0 brushes and there are many overlapping glazes in most of my paintings. Also, the type of imagery that I use is not easily verbally translatable.

q)What kind of training did you have which helped you achieve your current level of artistry?

a)None of the schools that I attended, including the Art Institute of Chicago, taught me any more than how to use and understand the limits of the tools of the trade, so to speak. I had to train myself to first draw until my drawings looked like a photograph. Then, I took that skill and applied it to my painting, taking license to paint mainly that which I saw in the mind’s eye and not what I saw in front of me.

q)Is there a tool or material that you can’t imagine living without?

a)The 18/0 brush and very good quality oil paint. I could live without them, but would prefer not to.

q)Who are your influences?

a)My very first influences were Peter Blume's “The Rock”, Dali’s “The Making of the Monsters” and Paul Delvaux’s “Village of the Mermaids”. Other painters such as Pieter Bruegal, Hieronymous Bosch, Fernand Khnopff, Lawrence Alm-Tadem, Max Ernst, Kate Bunce, Marie Spartali- Stillman, Dorothea Tanning, Leonor Fini, Evelyn DeMorgana and of course the great surrealist Leonora Carrington (whom I had the pleasure of personally knowing) Leonora has probably touched my painting to some degree simply by association with her. I also feel that I have been influenced by certain writings on Alchemy, metaphysics, the occult in general, philosophy and psychology.

q)What inspires you to create?

a)The most powerful inspiration usually stems from something that I see occurring in nature, such as a brilliant orange/red sunset, or being deep in the woods where everything smells like moss, wet wood, green things and decay, and the only sound that I can hear is what comes from nature. A certain type of music or a scene from a movie might stir something inside me that perhaps touches on an archetype or touches something deep within my psyche. The films “Prospero’s Books” and Jean Cocteau's 'Beauty and the Beast' from 1946 are two good examples and listening to gypsy, Celtic or classical music such as Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 always serves to inspire me to create. Inspiration also comes at times from dreams I have had or something interesting I have read.

q)Your contacts:

a)The best way to find out either where I am showing, or when the next show will be, or prices are to 'Google' my name or contact me with an inquiry directly from my web site: You may also contact the Artbay Gallery in Stoke on Trent, UK, at to inquire about giclees of almost all of my works, and original pen and ink drawings.

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