"The Art of Description" exhibition curator Doug Stapleton asked Karen a few questions about her work
CS Interiors, Winter, 2009
Art-A group of artists cast the streets of Chicago as their muse
Painter Karen Perl is after shifting, transitional moments. She paints—and repaints and then paints again—the same street corner, say Western and Clybourn or Touhy and
Western in Rogers Park, until she feels the matter is settled. She’s been at it for a few decades. “I want to paint the emotional connection, that nostalgic feeling,” Perl says. “I like the way you can manipulate a painting to make a scene a little more magical.”
Lately, she’s wandered into unfamiliar territory, trying to get at her personal emotional
response—what “turns her on.” Her landscapes of beautiful brick buildings are veiled by a fog of gray paint like faintly recalled images obscured
by the haze of a dim memory.
December 5, 2008
Karen Perl’s work is fantastic. Her simplified cityscapes transform buildings and streets into geometric fields of colour, while at the same time capturing and distilling the feel of the place and time depicted. The energy and mood of the places she paints is captured in a frozen yet alive moment, while all extraneous detail is abandoned. I’ll say it again, fantastic.
By Jenn Q. Goddu
Special to the Tribune
March 25, 2005
In the warm sun and beguiling light of the south of France, local Chicago artist Karen Perl began "en plein air" (outdoors) painting. For two years, she happily set up her easel outside to sketch and paint the world she saw before her.
Then she returned to Chicago. Still excited by the practice of painting in full contact with the vagaries of light, weather and time, Perl would look for quiet places in the city to paint. "Which are real hard to find," she concedes. She particularly likes the edges of the city, with its factories and low-rise buildings. "I don't always know why something would strike me in a certain way," she says.
But when winter arrives, "en plein air" becomes more of a hardship, because painting "en frigide air" is not nearly as much fun. "You can paint in the snow for about five minutes and then you're really, really cold and you go inside," Perl says.
But this winter, she tried to last longer outside longer, with a little help. In painting the new works on display this month at Aron Packer, she first set up "a little peripatetic studio" in her car, a warm space that was isolated yet still out on the street. Except sitting for so long in the front seat of a compact car wore on her. "I was really going to paint all winter in the car," Perl says. "In a way I'm a little disappointed that I didn't."
Instead, she huddled up in her Rogers Park studio to paint pictures by working from photographs of her favorite streetscapes. "For a long time I wouldn't let myself work from pictures," she says. "I just had this hard-core feeling that you should work from reality or life."
She's abandoned that self-described "snobbery," however. Either way--whether outside or in--she knows she's using all of her senses in facing complications and making interpretive choices. "It keeps on sounding kind of trite, but I really want to make a painting that's beautiful," Perl says. "I can't think of any other way to put it. I want something to have a kind of beautiful, glowy, poetic quality to it."
Perl's work demonstrates a "patient, quiet, attentive spirit" in observing the world, says Elizabeth Ockwell, a painter and former teacher of Perl's at the School of the Art Institute. "Her sensibility is so pure and so kind of bright and sunny, but not sentimental at all, I feel like it's a new version of the world that I love and we all inhabit."
Ockwell says she was surprised by the spirit Perl was able to capture in her paintings, even when they were made from photographs. "She brings so much of the real life of the street into them that they don't feel meager," Ockwell says. "It's all about her ideas of the city and her really heartfelt and physical response. I feel as if she's entered a kind of relationships with these places, and that's she gone so far down this path of looking at them, and recording them, that when she records them from her own photographs the dialog is still really active."
For Perl, working from photographs has offered her a new luxury while driving along Addison or Clark Streets or Lincoln Avenue (which she refers to as "my streets") looking for something to catch her eye. She no longer has to pick a location mindful of shade, safety and proximity to a coffee shop. She can take a photograph from any angle she likes and take her time in the painting studio.
Still, Perl looks forward to getting back out of doors this spring. She wants to see how this weather-enforced hiatus will impact her new work, saying, "I think when I go out now, after having spent so many months inside, something different will happen where I'll take that internal space a little bit with me."