June Guest Artist: Karin Jurick

"Karin is an observer par excellence of people – at work, at play, at rest, and all points in between."

Karin Jurick
“Casts of Characters”
Oil, 7 x 17 inches; 3 panels mounted on black

Since starting this project at the beginning of the year, I’ve been thrilled at the caliber of artists who have agreed – enthusiastically – to participate. Today’s guest is yet another artist who I’m very proud to interview; Karin Jurick.

Although I love seeking out and discovering new artists to look at, Karin is one of the handful of painters that I keep coming back to again and again, and it’s been like that that for years. Her work is fresh, vital, and spontaneous, with a spot-on and imaginative color sense, and brushwork that is a marvel in and of itself. Above all, she has an absolute genius eye for observing detail and situation. I’m always interested and frequently surprised to see what she’s doing next.

From the beginning, I knew this would be a difficult feature to write – because of the sheer volume of her output. She’s been close enough to a daily painter for several years, and the number and range of pieces to choose from is staggering.

While I enjoy nearly all the themes and subjects she touches on (I especially appreciate some of her recent landscapes), it’s the human element that truly distinguishes her as a painter in my mind. Karin is an observer par excellence of people – at work, at play, at rest, and all points in between.

She always carries a camera with her to document these moments for future paintings, and it shows. There’s a simple intimacy in these scenes that only comes from direct and constant interaction with daily life.

Karin Jurick
Oil, 7 x 5 inches

Although they’re often paintings of people in action, they simultaneously have a near Zen-like absorption in the moment. I haven’t embarrassed myself on a golf course since I was a teenager, but her fine eye for detail brought me back to the instant – and visceral gut feeling – of making just this kind of shot.

Karin Jurick
Oil, 8 x 8 inches

Even more valuable to me, though, is her understated wit, and ability to wrap a touching moment in gentle amusement. There’s something poignant about these two people, together contemplating the expanse of the bay and all that lies beyond – and so obviously blocked off from it. The eavesdropping pigeon provides just the right touch to lighten it a little; but not too much. It’s a profound painting… with a punch line. It’s tough to go for a tone like this without seeming smarmy, but Karin does it over and over again. It’s the kind of art that only an honest and sympathetic person can make.

In fact, frequently it recalls the spirit – though not the style – of Norman Rockwell, who was another extraordinarily keen and compassionate observer of people. (As an aside, I just have to slip in my opinion that Rockwell is grossly misunderstood and underestimated. He was never an illustrator. Instead his work falls squarely in the long and venerable tradition of genre painting, and as such he was one of it’s real masters).

Museum-Goers Series

Within her prolific output, however, there’s one group of paintings that really stands out for me, and that is the museum-goers series. I’m actually not a huge fan of museums (crowded and noisy – not the best environment for absorbing art), but Karin’s paintings capture the best and most interesting aspects of museum culture.

To people who like looking at art (and that is presumably everybody who’s reading this), the very idea of painting people looking at art is delicious, and these pieces work on so many levels. They’re usually not just simple depictions of people looking at pictures. There’s generally some kind of thoughtful commentary on the painting itself, and often enough the action is seen to spill out from the canvas to the surrounding museum space.

Karin Jurick
Oil, 12 x 8 inches

People come to museums (and art in general) with a wide range of motives and expectations, and they have a wide range of experiences as a result. She captures the spectrum of reactions and emotions people have when interacting with art, from an intense absorption, to nearly complete indifference – sometimes in the same scene.

Karin Jurick
“Luncheon Date”
Oil, 8 x 16 inches

The noise and laughter of Renoir’s scene is met with the stony silence of contemplation from the foreground crowd, yet it feels like a completely natural encounter. Furthermore, it’s a little difficult to distinguish the boundary - the central woman in white is painted in just such a way that she could almost be part of either group. Very clever stuff.

There is something deeply compelling about recording people’s interaction with art in this way. Karin seems to be thinking about nothing less than why we find art fascinating – and especially that magic, spellbinding moment when good artwork really has us in it’s grip.

Karin Jurick
“Little People”
Oil, 12 x 9 inches

Another great aspect of this series is the interpretation of the painting itself; it must be truly rewarding to essentially be copying masterpieces like this Sargent double portrait on a regular basis (apparently Sargent himself routinely copied throughout his career).

I found it interesting how she plays up the chilling quality of the sitters. The girl in the foreground seems to be having an appropriately ambivalent reaction – look at her twisting posture – it’s like she really wants to get away from that painting but can’t quite tear herself from it.

Having seen the original in person, that is exactly the right response. It’s repellant and spellbinding at the same time. There’s a real dark side to Sargent that doesn’t show up all that often, but these kids must have been the perfect foil for expressing it; they could be right out of The Shining.

Because I think it’s interesting to see next to Karin’s painting, here is the original Sargent:

John Singer Sargent
Portrait of Edouard and Marie-Loise Pailleron
Oil, 60 x 69 inches


Karin Jurick
“Georgia Grown”
Oil, 6 ¾ x 12 inches

I’d be remiss if I wrote about Karin without making at least some mention of her brushwork. Actually, it’s one of the most intriguing aspects of her painting. In a way it reminds me of watching basketball; it’s vigorous and athletic, but at the same time full of graceful and fluid movement… genuine poise.

In my own painting, brushwork is simply not important – it’s a means to an end. In Karin’s work, though, the brushwork is absolutely central. Sometimes, it seems like it IS the painting. Take for instance the above still life (which, by the way, I’d love to see more of). The long, broad strokes in the outer composition form a powerful vortex driving the action into the center of the painting, where the objects are defined by crisp, staccato marks. It’s not merely stylistic – it’s structural. The wide range of brushwork helps develop and reinforce the composition itself.

Different Strokes

I also want to quickly mention an interesting project she started last year; Different Strokes From Different Folks. This is a separate blog where every other week or so she provides a source image and invites other artists to send in their interpretations of that image. She then publishes all of the contributions, along with her own version; in excess of 100 artists regularly participate. It’s fascinating to see this theme and variations played out on such a large scale.

The Interview

So, enough from me, let’s here from Karin herself. I sent a list of several questions, and she sent back some very thorough and thoughtful responses.

JH: You went for a period of many years without painting; do you feel you were somehow developing as an artist during that time, even if you weren't actively picking up a brush?

KJ: Looking back, I know I was buried in work and nothing else for about 13 of the 15ish years. Being a picture framer, I found it discouraging that the artwork that was popular and sold was not what I wanted to paint anyway. I couldn't see myself painting trendy subjects or portraits - so I really gave up the thought of making a living as an artist. It was around then that I got online and discovered artists who painted what I was interested in - street scenes, real people in real places, food, etc - and it was HOW they painted that drew me in immediately. And this longing to paint emerged out of me. I spent hours, days, weeks, and a couple of years studying dozens of painters, just soaking it in like a sponge.

JH: Now that you're painting full-time, what's the best way that you've found to keep learning and educating yourself?

KJ: Even after 5 years, every painting is a learning experience with respect to how to handle the paint. With subject matter, I may get to the point of feeling like I get it now and I want to move on to a subject matter that I haven't tried - to keep learning. Different subjects require different approaches - which means I work at finding the most efficient technique to get the job done with the subject at hand. Additionally - and most important to learning and developing - is to work on smaller, quicker paintings constantly - when I try out different methods, subjects, colors, etc - which often carry over to more realized, larger work. And on the occasion when I feel stuck, I always take time to study other artists' works online - it provides clues to what I think I may be missing.

JH: Your "different strokes" project is a really interesting experiment in a type of group collaboration. How do you think this kind of technology-enabled interaction will change the way participants paint?

KJ: A plus is we're not in a time-crunch, like we would be in a workshop - we can all take our time to absorb the subject at hand and tackle it at our own pace. I try to provide a variety of subjects for the same reason I described above - to not get too comfortable with what we know - to challenge our ability, to find different approaches depending on the image. Painting or drawing in the comfort of your own environment makes for a more relaxed learning experience - less intimidation. I would hope that makes the process more enjoyable.

JH: Can you describe a typical workday in the studio?

KJ: There is no typical in my life. The goal is to get obligations done and out of the way early and retreat to my studio as soon as possible. I still own & operate a retail business - so I try to schedule my work time to a couple of days devoted to that and the other 5 days freed up. When I have a show coming up, I commit to doing very little else other than paint - for weeks, until I get the job done. Those days are more typical - I'm up around 7:30, walk Petey, read the paper, drink too much coffee and get out to the studio around 10. The first couple of hours are devoted to admin stuff, blog & web updates, emails then finally getting to work - looking through photos, picking one I'm interested in for that day, playing with it on Photoshop and start painting around 11 or 12. Almost always, I don't quit until the painting is done - it doesn't matter what time that is.

JH: Technical Lightning Round: Natural or synthetic brushes? Do you prepare your own supports? How did you stumble upon using a black gesso ground? What kind of lighting do you use in your studio? What's the most recent color you added to your palette?

KJ: I use inexpensive, synthetic, flat brushes by American Painter - mostly 1/2" wide. I made a desktop support, nothing fancy, that adjusts from straight up to about a 45 degree slant.

Painting on black, either gesso or latex paint, goes back to when I started painting with acrylics 5 years ago. I would paint these blocks of black on a heavy watercolor paper, then paint on top of that to get a richer, bolder, more opaque result. When I started learning how to paint with oils, I tried it on white or a medium tone ground color because I thought that was what I was supposed to do - but I realized I didn't get the same impact as I wanted - and I couldn't judge the colors from my palette to the painting as accurately. So I tried what I knew from experience, to paint on black. It took a while to really get how to apply the paint, how much to use, what mediums work for me, etc - but I know it's the only way for me.

My lighting situation is overhead halogen track lights - 10 of them beaming down at different angles. Makes for a warm day of painting.

I am always trying new paints, new colors, different brands. For some dumb reason, I never used Phthalo green or blue and recently added that to my pizza pan of colors. To explain that - I use a large pizza pan for my palette, daub about 50 paints around the rim with white and black in the center. I don't have a firm set of selected colors - I use about 5 different tints of browns, blues, greens, reds, yellows, purples and greys.

JH: A couple of years ago, a lot of people were making predictions that online sales would kill off galleries. Since you're active in both spheres, I assume you don't think that's the case, at least not currently. How do you see the two venues complimenting, supporting, or even detracting from each other?

KJ: I think there are and will always be two separate types of art buyers/collectors out there - those who wouldn't think of buying art from anyone but a dealer and those who don't have an interest in going into or feel intimidated going into an art gallery or even resent paying the dealer rather than the artist. There needs to be both worlds to accommodate all kinds of customers. What has changed is the dealers realizing they're not the only means of selling fine art - and they have had to accept that and create their own web presence to keep up with the current times.

In my case, I try to always respect one not competing with the other. The smaller paintings, the quick studies are vital to learning and still sellable, so I limit those to online auctions. A lot of those are experimental and give me a better idea of what people are drawn to - which carries over to larger, more realized paintings that are framed and hung in the galleries. Ultimately, the dealers benefit from the exposure, often selling the larger paintings to customers who saw or bought the smaller pieces - which makes everyone happy.

JH: How do you see your painting evolving over the next few years?

KJ: I only think of it in terms of evolving in subject matter - exploring different locations, seeing new things. I want to maintain a style which is not too tight and not too loose - which is my greatest challenge. It's tempting to be a perfectionist and it's just as easy to get lazy, even with a paintbrush. I work at that discipline every day.

JH: If you could go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself one piece of good advice, what would it be?

KJ: To choose a dealer/rep carefully. I was with a gallery in San Francisco for a couple of years - the owner treated me well until his sales dropped off, followed by nothing short of disrespect and insults. And I put up with it. I eventually pulled out and was stiffed out of my commission on a sale. The most profound advice would be to maintain a very business-like relationship with your dealers and your customers and act on your instincts when it feels wrong - or right for that matter. There are two of me - the personal and the professional - and I've learned all decisions regarding my art, my job, my living must be a business decision.

Looking back, I'd also advise carving out time to get my butt off the chair to stretch and get some exercise. My body's got a lot of repairing to do.

JH: Lastly, can you pick a painting of yours that you particularly like, and perhaps say a few words about it?

[see above: "Casts of Characters"]

KJ: This fairly-new painting is one of my personal favorites - for a lot of reasons. It's 3 separate panels which makes it a little unique, which lends itself to the widespread sidewalk and..... and it separates each group of characters. The shadows are almost a separate painting in itself - I marvel over shadows and love to include them in my paintings. I love that each individual is unrecognizable - I think we see ourselves more in a painting when the faces aren't visible. I love the strong light, as if I could feel myself there.

Well, that wraps it up for this month’s feature. Karin, thank you so much for participating and putting so much effort into your responses!

Karin’s work can be seen on her blog, A Painting Today, her website, and in person at a number of galleries. Please go have a look.

I also want to wish everybody a warm first day of summer… enjoy!