Featured Artist Interview – Karen Gutfreund

Karen GutfreundKaren Gutfreund







Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter, etc.
Words, text sequences and mantras are the foundation of my work. I do large scale, mixed media works incorporating acrylic, resin, and pop culture imagery. Most of my work is activist and with the current administration there is no end to new content, unfortunately.

Here are a couple of my series statements:

There is No God But God. My work is art as activism. The “War” series of work and “There is No God but God” portrays my reaction to the ongoing wars over the control of oil and natural resources within our consumer-based culture. I examine the juxtaposition of religious mantras and the resulting consequences of war and perceptions of freedom to obtain power over these resources. These works reveal the layers and inner complexity of my dreams, nightmares and emotions and to confront who we are and where we are going in a culture of exile and alienation between race, religion and political dogma in our turbulent society.

CTRL ALT DEL. With my CRTL-ALT-DEL series I’m examining the concept of creating ‘do-overs’, reinventing and defining oneself. One swift keystroke–wipe everything out to reinvent oneself, creating an alternative universe. Starting over in this new place, with a new story, digitally it’s clean, a pristine series of zeros and ones; the real world doesn’t operate like that. Wiping everything out over and over, the layers of life and memory get thin, unsubstantial, and disintegrate.

This Too Shall Pass. “This Too Shall Pass” is a mantra that has resonated with me for some time and I paint it over and over again in thinking about reversing eons of gendered, racial, sexual and economic injustice in the world. I’m an optimist and believe that while the race is long and hard, we have made good strides in planting the seeds for equality.

Gutfreund Karen_This Too Shall Pass

What are your biggest challenges in creating art?
Along with being an artist, I am also an “art as activism” curator. To date I have created 35+ national exhibition supporting feminist artists and shows on social justice issues. I would say that 80% of my energy goes to my curatorial practice and that is absolutely my biggest challenge in creating art. And while you can do both, I have to say I am more of a curator than artist, based on the results over the past decade of where my time has been spent. I am always going back-and-forth do I want to be a curator or do I want to be an artist. I just recently swore I was going to dedicate all my time to my art and then had possibly three new curatorial opportunities pop up. Oppes, didn’t keep that recent promise to myself. But while I may not be creating art, I am creating fabulous art exhibitions that are very meaningful to me. I love supporting and promoting other activist artists. I really believe that we can change the world through art and creating exhibitions with these impactful works on all sorts of subject matters of social justice really make a difference. But, without a doubt my biggest challenge in creating art is setting time aside for myself and my creations.liar liar pants on fire

What is a day of working like in your studio/creative space?  Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
To get in the creative zone, particularly if I am distracted with administrative projects, is to go into my studio and set a timer for 15 minutes. I will tell myself I will just work for 15 minutes and then get back to whatever deadline is looming. But I find almost every time, once I get started, I am completely engrossed, and the hours just fly by. I work alone, I do not like to have anyone around—although I do have a grandson now and rather than Grandma Karen, he calls me his “art partner”. He is allowed in my studio. I set him up with large sheets of paper and paint, and we work together. I also work in total silence. A lot of what I do is repetitious (with hand lettering) and so I unconsciously focus on my breathing and it gives me a steady hand and puts me in a meditative state. I love working in the wee hours of the night. There’s something that is so still, peaceful and magical.Karen Gutfreund_Forget Your Perfect Offering (with Leonard)

When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to, look at or do to help find that idea or fuel your work?
I subscribe to over 100 art blogs. Every morning I get my coffee and read for about an hour and a half in bed and think and reflect and watch the chickadees outside my window divebombing their feeder. Not only does this keep me in touch with what is going on around the world but reading about all the different artists and exhibitions is very inspiring.

I have file folders full of images I have pulled out of magazines for 30 years. Anytime I see an image that I like, I will save it. I sit on the floor and sift through all the pages and it really makes me happy and inspired.

I also have idea notebooks that I carry with me everywhere. You never know when inspiration is going to strike, and I write it down straightaway. When one notebook is full I will go through and copy over ideas that I think have merit into a new one and continue the process. I lost my notebook in NYC a couple of years ago. I was standing in line at the airport to check in and realized it wasn’t in my purse. I literally dumped my suitcase onto the floor to search for it, didn’t care who saw my underwear and stuff. I was frantic and then devastated. I can’t tell you the number of phone calls I made to try and find it. There is a law in New York that if you leave something in a taxi, cabbies are required to drop it off at a precinct. I did discover that New York’s finest (the men/women in blue) were very kind and tried to help locate it but it was just gone, disappeared. So, with pragmatic advice from my sister, she said it’s just time to start something new…Come to Me

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have been quite a nomad and have lived in over 31 zip codes all around the country. In fact, one of my favorite works is this painting on it titled “Migration”. And a personal success with this particular piece, it was accepted into a group show titled “Hidden Cities” in NYC juried by Lisa Phillips, the Director of the New Museum!

I have an identical twin and we were Oscar Mayer kids in commercials in the early 70s. And we always know what is going on with the each other without ever saying a word, psychic twin mind-speak.

My husband and I just bought land outside of Yosemite and we have started a grass-fed beef company. I also want to raise rabbits and cashmere goats. I plan on hosting artist residencies out on the property. It is 30 miles from the nearest stoplight!

Karen Gutfreund Migration

What advice would you give others just beginning their creative careers?
My advice would be to read the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is fabulous and filled with all sorts of good advice and musings on capitalizing on your creativity. So many young artists (and I know myself included), think that if you can’t just create a living on your artwork that you would just die. However, with having to pay your bills, rent, groceries, art supplies etc. and if your only source of income is selling art, that can be extremely challenging and frustrating. Then throw in the fear factor of what if I don’t sell anything this month and I can’t afford to pay my rent… having these negative thoughts and energy surround you will greatly hamper your creative output because you’re working from a place of fear and need. Her advice, and my advice too, is to get the best paying job that you can, doing something that you enjoy or at least don’t mind. Then when you leave your job at the end of the day, you can focus on your art and not worry about where the money is coming from. That frees you to just create with no expectations.

I also used to think that everything had to happen TODAY and as I’ve gotten older I realize that you just need to keep working towards your goals every day, bit by bit, and that paves the way to success.

One more piece of advice would be that it’s all just a numbers game. Meaning you may submit your work to 10 shows and only get one, but just keep doing it. Especially from a curator’s point of view, I see lots of fabulous work. Group shows are challenging. Sometimes there may be one piece that is phenomenal, but it just doesn’t speak to the theme or go with the other works chosen. It is not a reflection on you the artist, but rather just not a fit for that particular show, I learned to accept the vision of the individual gallerist or curator. And as I just realized this morning, I missed a deadline for a show in Chicago I really wanted to submit to—BUT there will always be other shows. Don’t quit. Re-energize and get back to it. Like yoga, art is a practice. So practice…

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2 years ago

Fabulous work and amazing words of wisdom. Thank you for featuring this amazing woman!

2 years ago

So Proud Of my sister in law for pursuing her art ambition!

2 years ago

Love her work. Very proud to own and display a Gutfreund in my home.