Conversations with an Artist: Karen McAlister Shimoda
Art runs in the family. We met Karen's daughter, Kelly, of Shimoda Ceramics and began carrying her collection. And while we haven't met her son, Brandon, we know he is an award-winning poet and author. Through Kelly, we met mom, Karen, and started exploring her connection to the art world across disciplines of drawing, printmaking, collage, book making, and painting. We admire Karen's love for nature and how her art is a reminder of the impacts of climate change.
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
When I was in the second grade, my teacher held up a piece of paper I had unknowingly torn into the shape of a dog and said to the class, “Karen is an artist.” Of course, that’s not the moment that fed my soul, but it’s the moment that proudly set me on a lifelong journey making art.
In 2007, I moved from a full-time editing career in New York City to Missoula, Montana, in order to afford more time for my art making. I bought a house and had an art studio built in the back. The moment I realized that art fed my soul was when I first sat down in my new studio and tears welled up in my eyes. I then understood how crucial art making was to my existence. I had worked hard to orchestrate this new phase of my life and vowed that I would make art full time for the rest of my life.
What themes do you pursue in your art?
The beauty of our natural world and the spiritual forces within are the primary themes of my art. These themes are depicted in the repeated patterns in the geology and botany I’ve seen on my travels through nature to the ephemeral apparitions of that which we might imagine in nature, that which is hidden, or that which has dissolved over time.
Field Notes Series
Tell us about what influences the direction for your art.
Materials, color, and size are three entities that currently influence my direction in art making. I’ve found that working with semi-transparent Dura-Lar, a plastic substrate, is encouraging me to paint more freely and fluently. I’m exploring color and discovering how colors and combinations of color can portray an emotional expression. And I’m playing around with the size of my work, discovering how my detailed micro images might translate on a broader macro scale.
After Life Series
How has your work developed over time?
It wasn’t until I moved to Montana, that I began to seriously take note of the development of my artwork and my evolution as an artist. My earlier work of this time was primarily tight and controlled realistic black and white illustrations. Each year since then, I’ve challenged myself to experiment with style, color, content, materials, and size. I am currently moving toward larger and larger abstract works. And as an artist, I’m working with less restraint and timidity and with more confidence and physical energy.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
A palette knife.
Do you collect anything?
I collect nature’s ephemera; I collect words and phrases.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
In September of this year, I spent two weeks living in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Every day, I visited the major museums of the City or the numerous modern art galleries of Chelsea. I saw works by some of my favorite abstract artists and discovered new favorites. I also revitalized my BA degree in art history by spending time studying old master religious paintings at the MET. New ideas for content are percolating, surprisingly from this latter focus.
Recently, I’ve begun reading Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel. This is an extensive biography of five women artists and their place in the history of abstract expressionism of the mid-twentieth century. Reading about their fortitude and perseverance as artists at a time when the art world heavily favored males is giving me courage to listen to my own voice, not just as a female artist, but as an artist.
What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
First I’d ask my younger self, What would you do with your art if you weren’t afraid? And then I’d tell my younger self, Do that one thing!
Karen's After Life and Glacial paintings at 4x4" square create an intrigue with their multidimensionality and painting on both the front and back surfaces that asks you to look beneath the surface. Her 6x6" cubes are observations of the natural world in patterns, textures, surfaces, layers, folds, and recesses.
Explore her collection in our shop.
~ Bonnie & Jeffrey