"You're going to find this strange," Karen Holtzclaw said to me, "but I can't stand fish." This was in an email exchange between myself and Karen, where I was surprised to see such an assertion, because Karen's paintings are full of fish! Karen went on to say "[I] prefer scuba diving in a swimming pool rather than in a lake or ocean because of fish being too close... chance of me sucking water into my lungs if they get too near. Can't take me fishing either because I scream when a fish is caught!"
Fish are important in Karen's recent paintings, particularly goldfish, or koi. Such fish, sometimes in dramatically mutated forms, appear in almost every painting in Karen's new show, leaping about.
Recently, Karen got carried away describing to me her youthful experiences in and near nature:
"living life on a farm was very brief but visiting grandparents farm was a major part of my childhood memories...gravel roads, creek, apple orchard for great climbing, chickens running loose, cats and dogs, picking vegetables from the garden and canning, pumping well water, cows to be milked and then prepared for the milkman, a horse...always wanted a horse and was convinced there was one waiting for me after receiving a birthday card featuring a horse, was told there was no horse but I just knew there was...it was a sign...and there wasn't...pigs...had to watch out for those pigs, they'd eat a man, an out house and chamber pots, burning corn cobs for heat, potato cellar, building forts with hay bales in the barn, walking down the lane to get the mail, finding arrowheads and playing songs from the church hymnal on the piano. Ponds and lakes came in later when we started water skiing trips to Cicero Lake then started renting cottages on Wawasee Lake during the summer months. "
Karen's paintings convey this richness, this sense of nature's inexhaustible possibilities. They make the viewer want to plunge in, despite or even because of the mysteries Karen evokes.
This reminds me of another story Karen tells from youth...
"Mom and I ventured into the Everglades one year and rode one of those boats with a gigantic fan on the back 'air boat'?. Used to explore the channels at the lake too...getting lake grass caught in the propellers then having to jump into unfamiliar water to untangle the clog. Liked watching dragonflies and butterflies. A little cornflower blue butterfly landed on my finger one time and stayed quite a while...I could even move my hand around to look at it from different angles..."
Reading that story, in an email from Karen, I shivered a little thinking about the alligators that I imagined must have been in those waters she was jumping into as a child!
A leap of faith is also something that art calls forth from the artist. Karen says ...
"When painting I like to surrender to what emerges from within. Not asking why but accepting and incorporating what is at that moment"
... sometimes a painting calls this forth from the viewer too.