January 11 – March 4, 2017
Karri Jamison is the 2015 Wilson Center Hidden River Art Festival "Best in Show" award winner. Her current series of paintings feature the birds and woodlands of the Midwest. When asked why she chose to paint nature Karri responds, “Nature is a constant inspiration to me. I’m fascinated how everything in nature is so complex and yet simple at the same time. It has a certain magic and energy to it that I’m always trying to capture in my paintings.”
Karri Jamison graduated from Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2007. She has three degrees in Fine Art: Painting & Drawing, Fiber-Nonloom, and Art History. Since graduation, Karri focused mainly on painting and developing her personal style. Nature is the most important influence in her work and inspired her to create a new genre of painting. Karri’s unique approach merges two painting styles: abstract expressionism and photo-realism. Karri refers to her style of painting as “Whimsical Nature.” Each painting starts with a hand-painted abstract background, which creates a sense of emotion, spontaneity, and vitality. Karri then studies each background and merges it seamlessly with realistic scenes from nature. Karri’s decision to create her own style of nature painting came from a sense that traditional nature art didn’t have the emotional connection that one feels when in nature. “For me, traditional nature painting has a ridged set of rules to it. It’s the same scenes, done in the same way over and over again. To the point where they become just a pretty picture,” states Karri. “I want my art to be more compelling than just a pretty picture. When I’m out in nature there’s a sense of wonder that fills me. An energy that can be felt on so many different levels. I’m fascinated by how everything in nature is so complex and yet simple at the same time. My hope is that people will look at my work and feel that sense of wonder or energy. Whether it’s a memory from being out in nature or seeing a certain bird for the first time, or just the feeling of connectedness.”
“Along with conveying a sense of natural wonder I also want my work to have a modern edge,” states Karri. “My goal is to create a modern aesthetic that appeals to many people. Not just traditional naturists.” Karri’s use of stark black and white backgrounds and her use of photo-realism achieve this modern look. Karri uses clean precise lines and highly detailed brush strokes. Often, clients ask Karri if her work is digital or photography. While flattering, the truth is, no. Every inch of each painting is meticulously drawn and painted free hand. The average time it takes Karri to create a painting is 200-500 hours. It takes an enormous amount of dedication, patience, and skill to achieve each painting. The only tools she uses to create her highly detailed birds are: acrylic paint, graphite pencil, and paint brushes only 3 to .5 millimeters in diameter. Karri’s favorite subject matter to paint is birds and trees. In fact, she considers herself a “bird-aholic” and finds it an enormous honor when ornithologists and biologists purchase her work. “Birds are a huge part of my life. They are the number one most inspiring subject matter for me. They have such unique personalities and characteristics. The patterns on their feathers are so intricate…I can’t help but enjoy the challenge and beauty each bird represents.”
The process Karri uses to create her work is as distinctive as her style. She starts by creating black and white abstract backgrounds using acrylic paint. Each of her backgrounds is unique and has an energy and imagination that sets the tone to each painting. While studying to get her painting degree, Karri developed a process of layering hand-drawn graphite imagery over the top of her acrylic backgrounds. This technique is one that she enjoys and continues to use in her work today. Karri then adds a third layer to her work; painting realistic birds and nature iconography in acrylic over the graphite layer. The result of this process reveals a sophisticated layering of bright colors, exciting textures and meticulously hand painted imagery. Karri believes, “Each painting is unique and needs to be treated individually. I enjoy the process of allowing a painting to unfold.” Karri’s unique use of different mediums, textures and styles are one of the things that distinguish her from her peers. All of these elements create a genuinely original body of work. To complete the sense of individuality within her work, she will often make her own canvases, custom frames, and refurbish antique frames to accompany her pieces.
Karri’s work is featured in several public, corporate, and permanent collections around the world. She has done educational murals for the Janesville and Ft. Atkinson school districts and has several of her pieces in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee permanent collection. Karri currently travels around the Midwest displaying and selling her paintings in galleries and at fine art shows. Karri states, “I feel an enormous amount of gratitude for the support I have been given by my clients and patrons. It’s because of their love of what I create that I am able to continue making my art on a full time basis. I am also very thankful for the support of my family and friends who have always believed in me and encouraged me to create my art.”
Karri Jamison’s personal journey as an artist began in her childhood. Born in 1983 in Farmington, New Mexico, Karri showed an aptitude for art at an early age. “I was constantly getting into trouble,” Karri recalls. “I was one of those kids who couldn’t help but draw or paint on everything in sight. My mother couldn’t keep enough art supplies in the house. Every coloring book and every pad of paper was covered in my early artwork. Often I would experiment and make art projects from things I found around the house. I would make sculptures out of home-made play dough and paper mache.” During her elementary and middle school education, Karri attended public school and could only attend art class once a week. “It was my favorite time in school. I loved learning about different ways to create the ideas in my head. I would come home and continue thinking about and exploring the mediums I learned about.”
Karri’s family moved to Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin when she was eleven. By high school, Karri began attending art classes on a daily basis. Karri flourished in the daily art courses her school provided. By the age of fourteen Karri began to enter juried exhibitions in her community. At age sixteen she won Best in Painting and Best in Sculpture at the Hoard Museums annual juried art show. That same year she also won the Best of Show Cygnus Award at the Cygnus Press annual juried exhibition. The local newspaper started reporting on Karri’s artist career. As a result, Karri began selling her work to prominent community members. She also began getting commissioned to do large-scale in-home murals for people in her community. “That was the year my whole world opened up,” states Karri. “I remember being called down to the principles office, when I walked in, there was a lady asking to purchase one of my paintings. The whole thing seemed surreal to me. It was the first time I realized I could make a living as an artist.”
Karri went on to study fine arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Peck School of the Arts. There she studied two different art forms: painting/drawing and fibers non-loom. It was at UW-Milwaukee that Karri and her art began to evolve. Her relationship with painting became intense and challenging. No longer satisfied with creating just a “pretty picture,” the conceptual ideas behind her paintings became more complex. The desire to hone her technical skills became an urgent need. “I fell in love with painting because it is extremely challenging,” states Karri. “There is such an enormous level of dedication and skill needed to create a successful painting. Every painting has its own puzzles to be solved. Composition, contrast, balance and iconography must all interlock seamlessly for a painting to be compelling. Painting forces me to constantly develop as an artist.”
Karri’s artistic style evolved from undisciplined and spontaneous, to tightly controlled, detailed, and thoughtful. While in college her subject matter also changed from the human figure to abstract expressionism. “It wasn’t a voluntary choice,” states Karri. “My professor insisted I change my style for the semester. Forcing me to try something new. I wasn’t happy about it and struggled a lot at first, but I gained a whole different perspective and set of skills by doing it. I’m grateful he had the foresight to make me change.” Through this change in subject matter, Karri developed a technique of layering hand-drawn graphite imagery over the top of her abstract backgrounds. This is a process that she enjoys and continues to use in her work today.
In college, Karri’s dedication to her art did not go unnoticed. Her freshman year, she won the Visual Art Foundation Award and her work was published by the University Art Gallery. Throughout the rest of her college career Karri continued to show in juried and invitational exhibitions. During her junior and senior year Karri won the Elsa Ulbricht Memorial Artistic Scholarship Award and the Visual Art Scholarship Award. Upon her graduation, Karri received the Bachelor of Fine Art Award and received Best in Painting at the BFA exhibition. Two of her photolithography prints were selected by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to be placed in the school’s permanent collection. Karri graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in painting/drawing, a bachelor’s degree in fibers, and an associate’s degree in art history.
After leaving school Karri devoted two years to creating and developing her style of painting. During that time she continued to paint the human figure but missed the energy and experimental nature of her abstract expressionistic work. Most of her figure paintings dealt with mythology and ancient folklore, especially its connection to nature. However, Karri continued to feel like there was something missing in her work. She began to experiment with different mediums and applications. At this point, Karri made an important change in her artwork, moving from oil to acrylic paints. She loved the freedom that acrylics gave her. “I no longer had to wait days between layers. I could obsessively work on a piece until I achieved what I wanted,” states Karri. “I also began experimenting with the paint and different ways to manipulate it on diverse surfaces. I discovered that layering graphite over the acrylic backgrounds gave a different effect than on oil.” Having increased technical freedom in her work inspired Karri to free herself from past iconography and embrace a totally new subject matter. “I’ve always had a deep love and fascination with nature,” Karri explains. “I realized my previous work had hinted at it but never fully embraced it. I got rid of everything in my paintings that didn’t matter, and focused on the true intent of my work…nature.” Drawing upon her semester of using abstract expressionism, Karri began to create abstract expression backgrounds with representational nature scenes over the top. Combining her love of nature, fantasy and abstract expressionism, Karri developed a style she likes to call ‘Whimsical Nature.’ “It’s nature with a touch of fantasy,” says Karri.
Karri works mainly on canvas using acrylic paint and graphite pencil. The process Karri uses to create her work is as distinct as her painting style. She starts by painting abstract expressionistic backgrounds, followed by layering hand-drawn graphite imagery over the top. She will then add a third layer to her work: painting realistic birds and nature iconography in acrylic over the graphite layer. The result of this process reveals a sophisticated layering of paint, exciting textures and meticulously painted imagery. Karri believes, “Each painting is unique and needs to be treated individually. I enjoy the process of allowing a painting to unfold.” Karri’s unique use of different mediums, textures and styles are things that distinguish her from her peers. To complete the sense of individuality within her work, she will often make her own canvases, custom frames, and refurbish antique frames to accompany her pieces.
When asked why she chose to paint nature, Karri responds, “Nature is a constant inspiration to me. I’m fascinated by how everything in nature is so complex and yet simple at the same time. Nature is so rich with life, colors and textures. It has a certain magic and energy about it that I’m always trying to capture within my paintings. I have an enormous respect for nature and the plants and creatures that live within it. As a child I always found a sense of wonder in nature. As if there was something happening on a higher or more developed level than what I could perceive. As an adult, I still feel that sense of wonder and whimsy within nature. My paintings are a tribute to my deep love and connection to nature and to all the creatures that live within it.” Karri’s connection with nature stemmed from an early age. As a child her mother would take their family on trips to parks and natural areas. “I was always in love with the natural world,” recalls Karri. “As a child I couldn’t resist picking up the beautiful rocks, acorns, or pine cones I found. As an adult, I still can’t resist. My home is full of the small and beautiful treasures of nature.”
Karri’s connection with the natural world and her ability to paint whimsical aspects of it, allow the viewer a rare glimpse into the magical side of nature. For some people, her paintings bring back memories of being in the woods or seeing a certain bird for the first time. Others find fascination in the scenes she creates. “It’s important to me that there is a certain amount of tension or interaction within each of my paintings. I love looking at my work as if it’s going to come alive. As if one bird is chirping to another or about to peck at a tree. Each scene has its own story about to happen. I like to allow room for viewers to place their own imagination into the painting; to imagine their own story. It’s in the unknowing of it all that the imagination is engaged.”
In 2010 and 2011 Karri was chosen to be the featured artist at Cranston Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her whimsical nature series has been well received by private, public, and corporate collectors. In 2011 Karri was also chosen by the school district of Janesville, Wisconsin to create a three-dimensional educational mural. The mural had two-dimensional and hand sculpted three-dimensional components designed to help visually impaired children learn about the physical environment. In 2012 Karri began selling her artwork at art shows, winning the Best in Painting award at the Kohler Midsummer Art Festival. In 2015 Karri won Best in Show at the Wilson Center Hidden River Art Festival and an Award of Excellence at the Art Street Show in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She also won the Patrons Award at the St. Charles Fine Art Show in Illinois, and Honorable Mention in Painting at the Queeny Park Art Fair in St. Louis. Along with local recognition, Karri has also sold her work internationally, shipping to countries such as England, Australia, Japan and Quebec, Canada.
The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.
What was the first thing that you made? Do you remember why you made it? What materials did you use and why?
I honesty can't remember the first thing that I ever made. I was always making things as a kid. I couldn't pass a sheet of blank paper or a pile of sticks without stopping to create something out of them. Much to the annoyance of my family, I was always creating. I was constantly in trouble for leaving my mark on things I shouldn't...like my mom's lampshade or my sister's arm brace. However, if you ask my mom, she'll tell you the most significant thing I made as a child was a clay elephant. I made it when I was in kindergarten. According to her, that's when she knew I was gifted.
How and when did you know you were an artist?
For me the revelation of knowing I was an artist didn't come until I was fourteen years old. I always loved art class and would spend my free time on art projects at home. But it wasn't until I enrolled in my first art class my freshman year of high school that I realized I was an artist. I put an enormous amount of dedication, thought, and time into my projects. I constantly wanted to be better, to learn more. I was a sponge. I was completely fascinated and inspired with every aspect of art. My teachers saw something in me and my artwork that made them treat me seriously. It was the first time I had any guidance into what I was doing. It was also the first time I was around people who took art seriously. My teachers began entering my artwork into local art shows and competitions. I began winning awards and people from my community started to purchase my paintings and hire me for professional mural commissions. I began to see myself and my art differently. My art was no longer something that I did on the side at home for friends and family, it became a serious pursuit. I realized it was something I could and would dedicate my life to.
What was the event/person that got you started creating your art? Does that event/person continue to influence the work that you do?
I can't attribute one event/person that got me started in creating my art. I was born with a natural aptitude for art and a way of thinking that was conducive to it. I would say that a variety of stepping stones and people in my life have helped me in creating my art. Art is organic and flowing. It's something that develops and perfects over decades of learning and dedication. It's something that lives inside of you and has to come out. For me...it always came out. But as I grew older and graduated high school, I knew I needed to hone my skills and technique. I needed guidance and insight into the principles and elements of art. As well as the encouragement and development of my own artistic style. That's when I made the decision to enroll in Peck School of the Arts, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Over the course of five years, I graduated with two bachelors in art one in painting & drawing and one in fibers non loom. Being a part of that program had a huge impact on me as an artist and a person. For the first time in my life I was a part of an artistic community. I lived, ate, breathed, and slept art. I can't begin to explain all of the invaluable lessons and eye opening experiences that my education with Peck School of the Arts gave me. It was a hard and painful experience at times. For those of us who took it seriously, it was like being torn apart and rebuilding yourself over and over again until the very best version of yourself existed. There were times when I was up for three days straight trying to finish all of my art projects on time on top of my Math, Science, and English courses. It was like heaven to me. My professors and teachers were amazing. They knew when to give you tough love and when to pat ya on the back. They were so dedicated to their students and saw the potential in all of us. Kay Knight, Alison Cook, Marna Goldstein Brauner, Kyoung Ae Cho, and Stephen Samerjan are a few of the teachers who changed my life. I will always be indebted to them and extremely grateful for all of the artistic and life lessons they gave me.
Who or what inspires you and why?
Looking at my work I think it's easy to guess what inspires me...nature. In my world nature rules supreme. It is the beginning and the end of everything. I'm fascinated by the intricate patterns of birds, leaves, bark. insects, flowers etc. You can pick up anything in nature and it will have a complex beauty. Also I love how connected nature is. How perfectly balanced ecosystems are. It's this intricate dance that most of the time we humans don't stop to enjoy. My paintings are about recreating that joy. That perfect moment when we stop and remember the amazing and inspiring world around us. I hope to convey a sense of happiness, memory, and whimsy in my paintings. As well as a bit of an awareness and education about the natural world we co-habitat with.
Are there any programs or opportunities to learn that you wish you had had as a young artist?
As a young artist I wish I would of had an opportunity to do figure and life drawing in high school. My art education was very basic and mostly I was left on my own to do what I wanted. While I appreciated it at the time, looking back now, I realize I would have been more prepared for my college courses had I been instructed in life and figure drawing. I was literally thrown into it in college and had to work hard and put in a lot of extra time so I wasn't behind.
What would you say to a young person to encourage their study and practice of art?
Art is hard core. Art is a lifestyle. It's not something that you necessarily choose. It's who you are. It is the pursuit of perfection. If you take a look throughout history, cultures are defined by their art. Many inventions we have today were created by artists. Artist have the power to define who we are as a race. If you have the ability to see the world differently, to think outside the box, you are special and your artistic vision is important. Don't worry about what other people think, you have the ability to become limitless. Keep the faith in yourself, critique yourself, practice daily, and hone your observation skills.