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November 6, 2011 / Robert Ross

The Artist’s Eye

Karen in her Studio

I first met Karen Schwartz at a job site on a cold January afternoon.  She and her husband were contemplating a renovation to their home in Atlanta and something about the progress of a project of mine that she drove past everyday had intrigued her. Very happily, I won the commission and a successful collaboration was begun.

From the beginning she said she wanted her home to be filled with light. Only after her home was well into construction did I discover the true reason behind this passionate desire for natural light. The woman I knew as a successful psychologist, was an extremely talented yet “closeted” painter! I was exposed to this quite accidentally as she delivered a double portrait she had done of the interior designer and her husband during a meeting. As soon as I saw it I was actively engaged and wanted to see more.

Barack Obama "Obama II" Mixed media on paper 11 x 15 inches

Karen is a natural artist.  This means that without a lot of formal training, she has an incredible innate capacity to see and convey the essence of an individual without being literal. Even more remarkably she accomplishes this while avoiding a slip into caricature. It also means she is not bound by the conventions of teaching but has found her expression through a natural exploration of light and color in space. As you view her work, you step into and become part of an ongoing conversation. Her subject matter ranges from friends and family to public figures from the world of art and politics. Working primarily from photographs, she is somehow able to reveal the person behind the public mask.

Man in Menerbes Mixed media on canvas 22 x 52 inches

As an artist Karen believes a painting begins well before the first media is selected. The earliest memory she attributes  to “painting” is daydreaming in seventh grade. It was the late 1960’s and she would spend her class time mentally altering the patterns and colors of the brilliantly colored shirts she saw on the students around her.  She discovered that she could draw in 9th grade from an art teacher who simply told her to draw and turned her loose. There was not a lot of “how to” in that class.

"Cafe Gossip" Mixed media on canvas 36 x 52 inches

She went on to take some photography and art classes in college.  At the time she considered a double major in art and psychology. In the end psychology won out. Her life trajectory continued on through marriage, practice and children. During that time she maintained her eye through photography. It wasn’t until she and her daughters were spending the weekend with an artist friend that she began to draw again. That is where the two passions of her life began to converge.

True to her 9th grade art teacher’s instruction Karen started to paint. She didn’t start with apples, she started with portraits- one of the most difficult things to do successfully. It is one thing to document a moment in time, it is quite another to capture the pause for thought between sentences. This is where everything comes together for her. Karen’s gift is her ability to observe. It is the reason she is a successful psychologist. It is what makes her paintings so wonderfully accessible.

"Women and Sawhorses" Mixed Media on Canvas 128x85 inches 2011

She recently joined Fine Arts Workshop, a studio led by artist Michael David. This studio was founded specifically for artists who have taken a round about journey to their art. The studio setting encourages them to push their limits while remaining true to their vision with stunning results. For Karen it pushed her into life sized figurative painting. What I find fascinating is that in the larger scale she has unleashed the power and vitality of her smaller scaled portraiture. The new work, executed in a sparer manner, results in an even more immediate and intimate portrayal of her subjects.

It has been a joy to watch her growth over the last decade as she has begun to actively show her work.  From her initial leap into the art scene at the 2003 Biennale Internazionale Dell’ Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy to her ongoing collaboration with the Swan Gallery in Serenbe, Karen has used her shows to display her particular viewpoint. Her newest work will be on display at the Bill Lowe Gallery in Atlanta, beginning this Friday, November 11. Opening Reception 6-9.

To discover more of Karen’s work visit her website at

"Dirty Dara" Mixed Media on Canvas 187x85 inches 2011


all photos courtesy of the artist and used with permission.


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