Karen Wilcox, Flora, 2015, pastel on paper, 46 in. x 38 in.

How would you describe the work that you do?

My work is a combination of painting and sculpture . . . I like to combine different techniques. I’ve always been interested in using the human body to express the internal struggle of being human and also being female. . . . The size of my work ranges from a very intimate scale to being larger than life. . . . As far as materials go with my paintings, I work mostly in oil and oil stick on a variety of surfaces. . . . With sculpture I’ve worked with everything from bronze casting to hand cast forms in hydrocal upon which I use various surface treatments. 

Are there ways in which you intend your work to challenge the viewer?

I think a lot of my viewers can be challenged by my work or even repelled by the imagery . . . [of] contorted body forms that are morphing with animal forms. . . . I characterize reptilian figures with human heads. . . . I am creating work about the human condition, the physical body and also the imaginative body; the dreams and subconscious of human experience. Something that is larger than life can certainly have a more dynamic impact on the viewer.

What kind of research do you do for the imagined bodies?

Karen Wilcox, Serpent Deity 1 v.2, 2005, limited edition bronze

I do a lot of research on a variety of subjects. My interests include the subconscious, feminism, world mythologies, symbols, sacred spaces, religious icons. . . . I reinterpret symbols that have been used throughout history.

What have been the greatest challenges to your art career and how do you navigate them?

I think sometimes I feel like I am my own worst enemy. . . . One of my greatest challenges is to persevere, . . . to stay really true to my vision and continue my work in spite of misunderstandings and, at times, very harsh criticism. I have to return to my core belief that my role as an artist in the community is vital. . . . I dig deeply into my own imagination . . . and sometimes what comes out is very surprising, even to me. . . . I think it takes a lot of courage to bring one’s deeply held convictions out into the world and create something tangible. . . . I have to continue to trust my intuition.

What advice influences you or your art making?

Karen Wilcox, Woman II, 2006, limited edition bronze

I don’t really know if I have an answer. . . . It’s more about the years of studio practice that guide me at this point.

How do you know when you have been successful?

You know you have been a success when you have created so much artwork that you run out of storage space!

Why did you choose to pursue the life of a professional artist?

Well, it wasn’t as much a choice for me as it was a calling. I’ve always loved creating things, making things with my hands. I felt compelled to share my perspective and my life experience in a very tangible way. I feel that, for me, tangible objects really ground me in the world. I feel that my work is just the beginning of a dialog. . . . I want my viewers to participate in my creative process. I want them to engage in my work, ask questions, look beneath the surface and ask, “What is this?”. . . and to connect with my work and their own life experience. . . . When people share that with me, it is a huge reward. . . . I feel I have made a connection with someone else. . . . I am amazed when people have been so moved by my work that they will share very personal stories with me.

In your opinion, how is being a woman artist in 2015 different from what it might have been like one, two, three or even four decades ago?

I know that women artists have a lot more opportunities, professionally and through education, than we’ve had in the past. But, we still have a long way to go. I think that women’s art still tends to be marginalized in certain sectors of the art world and we struggle to gain recognition for our work. . . . It always amazes me when significant work by women artists are “discovered” or recognized, finally, but only because they were ignored or disregarded previously. So, that’s still going on.

Does personal history work its way into your practice? How might who you are be reflected in your current work?

I believe we all have a personal mythology that we live by. . . . We all have a basic moral code, but individually we tend to continuously shape that code to fit our viewpoint or current circumstances. My personal mythology is about who I am and how I place myself in the world. . . . Drawing on all the research that I’ve done through the years about symbolic imagery, it seemed like half the story was missing; it all seemed like it was coming from a masculine viewpoint. And, certainly growing up as a female in the patriarchal culture, I really couldn’t find a source of wisdom that seemed to be truly feminine, or at least non‐biased. So, my work reflects feminine wisdom and compassion and strength in the imagery, which is so lacking in our visual culture.

In the studio

Are there certain ways in which you identify yourself as a feminist artist?

There is a definite gender bias in our culture. I really want to present images and objects that question perceptions of gender and how that affects our behavior. . . . [I want to] challenge the lack of tolerance in our culture and society. . . . I’m very interested in revealing how the sources of wisdom have been shaped by masculine language and symbols. . . . One of the sources of my work is the Women’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects by Barbara Walker. She really goes into an extensive analysis of ancient feminine symbolism that has been usurped by patriarchy and how the symbols have changed meaning throughout history. . . . Symbols that were originally feminine are now masculine. . . . My main body of work is called the Compassion Mythology, which is a combination of paintings and sculpture and installation that brings together all the work that I’ve done in the last fourteen years. . . . I came up with this concept based on all the research I was doing. It seemed that most belief systems started with the creation mythology. I was dissatisfied with the stories I was finding, so I decided to create my own mythology. . . . It is not meant to be a linear story, but more about imagery and concepts that manifest a culture of gender equality.

Karen Wilcox








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