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Selective Focus: Karen Owsley Nease

Karen Owsley Nease paints large images of waves, capturing the characteristics of the water and its shapes with layers of transparent oils. She is hosting an opening of the work at the UWS Kruk Gallery on Oct. 5.

Tell us about the medium you work in, and how you came to work in your style.

K. O. N.: I am a visual artist whose primary medium is paint. My most recent works are oil paintings built up with numerous layers of thinly applied glazes. This particular method of painting dates from very early in the history of painting and I employ it because the rich luminosity I can achieve within the paintings from its use. My current series of paintings are intensely observed close- ups of breaking waves. This subject matter lends itself to explorations on many levels, both formally and intellectually.

Realm of the Bene Gesserit,oil paint on cradled wood panel, 12 x 24″, 2016


My style could be called contemporary landscape. That differs from the traditional meaning of landscape painting in both appearance and intent. Historically, European and American landscape paintings typically sought to maintain close adherence to replicating the scene in front of the painter. When the painting included humans, the natural world became subservient in both importance and meaning – and the landscape became merely a stage.

L’Origine du monde, oil paint on cradled wood panel, 30″ x 60″, 2017


Karen Owsley Nease in her studio.

Contemporary landscape paintings are often more about emotional or socio-political content, conveyed by emphasizing certain aspects rather than mere representation. Throughout my artistic career, I have sought to extend the meaning of landscape beyond the Western European tradition. In my current wave series I present the untamed force of water with no reference to humans whatsoever except for the viewer’s own reaction. Humans are no longer dominant. My paintings present the elemental forces of nature as entities in their own right. This type of imagery invites the viewer away from the normal Western way of perceiving and representing nature.

Charlie Don’t Surf, oil paint on cradled wood panel, 24” x 48”, 2017


How long have you been working in this medium?
I have painted since before kindergarten and began formal art classes when I was in 4th grade. I have continued to paint since then and went on to earn a BFA in painting and printmaking at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Charge of the Light Brigade, oil paint on cradled wood panel 12″ x 24″, 2016




Has your technique or way of working evolved since you started?

Yes, in that I employ different techniques, rather than just one specific technique. Each body of work requires a particular approach to convey the meaning behind it. Because of that, my “mark-making” is critical to my art making. For each of my different series, I often utilize new or different ways of making marks with the paint. With this wave series, I apply thin glazes with a rag on the end of my finger. I use this approach because it allows the gesture of my hand to mimic the motion of the water’s surface. In an earlier series, I applied the paint in several thick layers to build interesting, tactile surfaces.

A Wave for Warhol, oil paint on cradled wood panel, 12″ X 24″, 2016

What are the challenges and / or rewards from doing what you do?
I think my challenges are pretty typical of all artists, the biggest is finding enough time to get all of my ideas worked through. The rewards are exploring an idea sufficiently to have a cohesive body of work, and if one is fortunate, being able to share that with a larger audience.

Where can people see your work?

I am having a solo exhibition of my wave paintings at the Kruk Gallery, University of Wisconsin Superior from October 3 – October 26. The opening is 5-7pm Thursday, October 5. I also have work at Lizzards Gallery in downtown Duluth; on my website karennease.com; @karenowsleynease on Instagram; and Karen Owsley Nease on Facebook. In the future, I will occasionally have work in certain thematic group shows at Joseph Nease Gallery which is opening in October of this year.

Any upcoming projects, exhibits, or challenges you are facing?
I plan to continue painting the wave series for at least the next couple of years.

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