Thanks so much to Maggi Henriksen (editor) and Mary Hurlbut (photography) at Stu News Laguna, I made it to the front page! Well, all right, it’s the “Second Front Page,” but still…
In their “Laguna Life and People” section, Maggi sums up my work and my life in her headline, “Art and soul flow through Karen Petty like a river.”
“There is no choice to create art,” says Karen Petty. “You do it or you would die.”
She would know. Art exists inside her, all through her, and is everything in her world.
That sensibility drives the motto of her life, “A river runs through it!”
After 25 years of showing at the Sawdust, she has lost none of the passion for the artful life.
Her cool and relatively spacious gallery on the hilly side of the arts grounds is like an other-wordly oasis. Stop in and she’ll get you thinking about the universe and love and freedom of expression. It’s a thought inducing, liberating space filled with Karen’s laughter.
Her joy and enthusiasm is infectious, and quite possibly inspiring.
I witnessed a couple come by, drawn in by Karen’s voice, “It’s okay to be naked! It’s okay to bare our souls!” Yeah, they agreed, as they looked at the images on the walls; mostly naked figures embracing, reaching out, or closing in together. They stayed to talk about all kinds of things in the stream of consciousness fashion of Karen’s conversations.
The gallery walls are filled to the brim with natural and human forms. There are solo figures, hand-drawn, painted on canvas, then layered thick with the glossy brilliance of resin. There are stacks of giclee prints in smaller format. They all reflect this year’s theme, Be Loved.
Every year the art that pours from her soul is an outward expression of her life experience, so that the body of work she brings to the Sawdust becomes the message.
Last year’s theme was a tribute to her husband who had unexpectedly passed away. Her grief, combined with the joy of having known the kind of love they shared, helped her to create Falling Stars; canvases dotted with gold-leafed beach stones.
This year’s theme, Be Loved, carries the message of love forward through images of devotion.
It all started when she was a little girl who liked to draw horses. Karen was eight years old, and living in Illinois when she sent a drawing of an Appaloosa in to the “Appaloosa News” magazine. That was her first published work of art. By the time she was 23, the Art Institute of Chicago represented her.
As she says, “You either love my work or you hate it. There is no gray area with Karen Petty!”
She’s a summer and winter Sawdust artist, she sells on her website, karenpetty.com, and locally she’s represented at Laguna’s LGOCA gallery.
This year Karen is looking to branch out across the country as well. “Don’t you think it’s time I grew up?” she says with a wink. “I think I should see some of the country!”
Well, time for travel would also mean time away from her other passion – the politics that are involved with selling art in one collective gallery. Karen is the Secretary for the by-laws at the Sawdust, and the Chairman of the Digital Guild Guidelines. She believes in fairness and equality, and works to assure those rights, likely in the same vein as Lady Godiva. “I have a bone of justice to pick,” she says. “I’m there naked on a horse to right the wrongs!”
Karen Petty, a champion for truth, justice, and art every day.
Karen oversees the Sawdust by-laws to make sure that everybody plays by the same rules. “I want to keep the Sawdust fair to everyone, I want democracy to run through it,” she said.
“I’m a crusader in art, and I’m a crusader in justice.”
She’s presently working on that message with a painting called Scales of Justice.
While she once was a portraitist, the thoroughly modern Karen Petty remembers that was boring. “It’s so easy to paint something that’s in front of you,” she says. “The hardest, the challenge, is when you’re painting something that’s inside of you.”
Creating art is a cathartic experience, an emotional expression of one’s self, but it also speaks to other people in a language completely its own.
Fellow Sawdust artists recognized Karen’s talent when she was voted Artist of the Year in 2012, by the jury of her peers. And judging by sales this summer, it looks like patrons of the arts relate to her work as well. Just yesterday someone came in and bought six pieces.
“The show is good this year,” she says. “I think people are coming into a sense of being different.” She could be onto something: yes, it is okay to be naked!
With Karen Petty, the connection between the artist and the viewer is a magical alchemy of fine art and soulful insight. With inspiration, enthusiasm, and approachable repartee, Karen simply draws you into her colorful world.
What’s she going to do when the Sawdust closes in a couple of weeks? She laughs, “I hear there’s a beach in town! Someone told me that.”
Reprinted here courtesy of Stu News Laguna
Mark Parker is a friend. He made this video of me at the Sawdust Festival