Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Solstice Benefit 2010 Featured Artists: Nicholas Santore and Karen Dow

By Marianne Bernstein

One of the great quotes I heard recently was “that the only difference between artists and non-artists is that artists don’t give a #$&@ what others think of them”. I love the spirit of this and believe there is some truth to it.

That being said, there are two Summer Solstice artists I know well who not only don’t care what others think of them (or their work) but have consistently pursued their art with a singular vision against all odds, simply because they need to create.

Karen Dow

They don’t know each other, but share a lot in common. Both received Graduate degrees from the Yale School of Art- an institution which has influenced (I say that rather than “produced”) some amazing artists over the years, maybe because acceptance there is so competitive). They are also both extremely modest – wary of the commercial art world and the trappings of fame; they are the real deal…honest, kind, direct and unassuming, and extremely hard working. Their creativity is not a spigot that is turned on and off. They never stop being artists. Karen is a mother, teacher, gardener; Nicky is a surfer, carpenter, and musician. They breathe life into whatever it is they do.

Their prints and paintings are intricate, detailed, painstaking, requiring razor-sharp concentration and skill, methodical- produced by hands that are steady, unwavering, but with hearts full of passion, longing, and nostalgia for days when quality and skill actually mattered.

Karen Dow and Nicholas Santore graduated art school two years apart from one another (1998 and 2000, respectively). They have won prestigious awards, and each has had numerous solo and group shows. I have followed the careers of both over the past decade, and feel that they are at a critical juncture (as are many young artists) of needing financial support and encouragement from collectors and museums.

Nicholas Santore’s work is derived from a nostalgia for certain views, impressions and influences that he has observed and experienced at various times throughout his life. These include objects, figures, music, structures, patterns, colors and light specific to subject matter that is often dated, overlooked and/or neglected. The grid, pattern and seriality in his surroundings form the visual and compositional basis for his images, often exploring and distorting perspective, while constructing representational views- both invented and observed- which are realized from visual references, direct observations, memories and intuition.

Nicholas Santore, After the Gold Rush

Karen Dow’s inspiration “comes from home catalogs where fantasy, the geometry of modern architecture, and interior spaces reign. She finds beauty in these scenes and is able to break it down to its bare essence of color, line, patterns and space. Dow sees the beauty in everyday life, but knows that nothing is as it seems on the surface and when you break it down to its core, you begin to see a whole new world”.

Karen and Nicky mostly paint in oil, but also are printmakers. I was curious how their printmaking affected their paintings and vise versa. Always curious about artists’ process and influences, I asked each of them the same questions. Here are their answers:

MB: When did you realize you were an artist and why do you continue to make art?

Karen: Junior year of college, I became a potter. I continue to make art because I am an artist. I feel bad when I stop, and I feel great when I'm painting.

Nicky: After the first week of Grad school it felt legitimate to me …sometimes I feel like I'm chronicling points in time and views which are nostalgic and beautiful to me, and sometimes to honor some inner compulsion.

MB: Where did you grow up and what childhood influences shape your work?

Karen: I grew up in Buffalo, NY. I spent every Sunday having brunch at the Albright Knox Art Museum. There is a great collection of art from the 60's; giant color-field paintings, Warhols, Pollocks, it felt like home to me.

Nicky: Center City Philadelphia- my father and his work certainly influenced
me throughout my life, also the late 70's - early 80's era also informs much of my work

Nicholas Santore, Radio (Available at Summer Solstice 2010)

MB: Who (and what) has inspired and continues to inspire you?

: My husband; painter Christopher Mir, teaching, and my children

Nicky: Valerie Ferus, family, Bowie

MB: Who are your favorite artists?

Karen: Josef and Anni Albers, Sol Lewitt, Mel Bochner, Agnes Martin, Gene Davis and Anne Truit. I love these artists for the way in which their art and their lives were/are fused. They all have an approach that is straightforward and uncomplicated. It feels very honest to me. I try to live up to this influence.

Nicky: Hard to pick a favorite but recently I've been looking at very early Lucien Freud, early David Hockney, Gregory Gillespie, Jean Prouve.

MB: What are your hobbies and how do they inform your work?

Karen: At first I was just going to say, "I am a teacher, mother of two and a painter! I don't have time for hobbies." Then I remembered I garden. I garden with a desire to bring beauty into my life. I organize my gardens in much the same way I organize my paintings. It brings me great joy to see things constantly changing and in need of tending and adjusting. It's always in process, and will never be finished.

Nicky: Basketball, surfing, music, yoga, vintage design, not really sure how these
connect with my work. I think music gets into my work the most.

MB: What would you like art collectors to know about you or supporting artists in general?

Karen: That living with works of art is wonderful and enriches you everyday. I have paintings and prints in my house that I look at every day. They bring me a constant sense of joy. I also see new things in these works when friends and family come into my home and remark on things they see in them. Living with art has had an impact on how I see the world since I was a child. It is important to me to see my work have a life in my collector's homes – that my paintings are lived with.

Nicky: If broken down hourly, I'm making less than minimum wage making my work.

Karen Dow

Karen: I prefer etching and woodcut, both because they are so different from painting. The process is slow and completely different; subtractive rather than additive. The prints usually come after the paintings and are copies of images I have already made using a different process. This changes the images dramatically, but by using an image I have already made, I can focus solely on the process. (which is what I love about printmaking.)

Nicky: The process of making linoleum reduction prints changed the way I make paintings. The prints inherently need to be pre- planned from the drawing and composition to color choices. When I started approaching my paintings that way, I felt like I was connecting more with my subject matter, and leaving less up to chance. That's not to say that spontaneity was completely eliminated from the work…

Philagrafika chose its Summer Solstice artists very carefully this year. Each artist has immense talent, a singular vision, and a story to tell. My advice would be to come on June 23rd to Locks and choose someone whose work you respond to. Stay in touch with them. Encourage them, share yourself, be inspired, and give them the support they so much deserve. We are all in this together.

-marianne bernstein 6/16/10

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