In their abstract nature and focus on color, field paintings serve as opportunities for the viewer’s mind to wander. Because there is no specific figure in the composition, the viewer can bring their own interpretation to the piece and focus on the emotions that each color might evoke.
Karen Arm’s latest solo show, Light + Heavy, at the PPOW Gallery through June 25, invites the viewer to do just that—although she does let us in on what inspires her pieces. Each work in the show is untitled, but with a parenthetical aside that gives viewers some insight into the source material for the piece. These descriptions mention the sun, and also its waves and beams.
And while the resemblance between these forms definitely comes through, the magic happens in the abstraction. For Arm, the importance comes in how she translates a form, such as the sun, into her own visual language.
“My work is inspired from natural forms and systems, which I abstract and transform in my paintings,” Arm tells The Creators Project. “The image in the Sun series evolved through the working process. I have developed a kind of language of mark making that reflects different elements found in nature. For example, I have worked and continue to from (images of) waves and other water patterns, branches, roots, grass blades, and stars.”
Circular shapes do make an appearance in the show, echoing the viewer’s internal image of what a sun might look like. But these round shapes could also refer to galaxies, to stars. “The first of these star images were fields and then evolved into globular clusters, which were a bit closer to reality,” writes Arm. “As these changed, the image began to form a sphere. The first of these pieces were called 'planetary bodies' and then developed into the Suns.”
No matter their figural representation, the creation of these compositions seems to sparkle with their own light. The colors cluster together, seeming to get brighter when they meet in the middle. Whether through acrylic or watercolor, Arm pays close attention to the effect of each and every mark.
“The interactions of color and light are integral to my process,” writes Arm, "utilizing different methods of resist and glazing in order to achieve optimum luminosity. I think of the marks themselves as a source of light and energy in the pieces.”
Taking in each piece could inspire a meditative experience, a chance to reflect on nature’s beauty or simply get lost in the floating dots of color or wavy lines. For Arm, there is no one mission when creating these pieces—its in the viewers’ hands how they decide to experience each one.
“I do think of the work as meditative, even a type of mandala, but as an abstract artist, I want the viewer to bring their own perceptions to the work,” writes Arm. “I see my work as slow, in that I hope one will spend a bit of time looking, as there is alot of detail in each piece. For me, the 'sun' as subject has such a range and depth of meaning.”
Light + Heavy is on view at PPOW Gallery in New York City through June 25. You can find more information on the show here.