Photo: David Howells
Karen Marston (b. 1964, Madison, WI) bears witness to the impact of climate change on the environment and the sublime power of nature with vivid, evocative paintings. Raised in California, she earned her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and participated in the A.I.C.A. New York Studio Program. Her work has been seen in a number of solo exhibitions in New York City at the Owen James Gallery, Station Independent Projects and Storefront Bushwick as well as at the James Baird Gallery in Canada. She has participated in group exhibitions at a variety of New York spaces including Metaphor Projects, Front Room Gallery, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, and two recent exhibits at SPRING/BREAK Art Show NYC: TV Guide, curated by Jennifer & Kevin McCoy + Jennifer Dalton and Coral Projects, curated by Vanessa Albury + Tamara Weg. Marston also served as President of the Board of Trustees of NURTUREart Non-Profit for over ten years, where she was instrumental in the opening of the NURTUREart Gallery in Brooklyn, project managed the development of the online Registry for Artists and Curators, and hosted eleven seasons of Muse Fuse, an informal monthly art salon with many notable guest speakers from the forefront of the art world. Marston currently lives and works in New York.
Click here to view or download a PDF of my curriculum vitae
Relative to the Horizon, solo exhibition, James Baird Gallery, 2022. Photo: Marianne Barcellona
For the past several years I have been painting natural and not so natural disasters, triggered by the near simultaneous explosions of the oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico and the volcano in Iceland. These images became an external manifestation of an apprehensive mood fed by a growing litany of frightening catastrophes, a conflation of many destructive crises consuming the world. The scope of this continuing exploration broadened to include more volcanos, raging forest fires, hurricanes and tornadoes. All larger and more frightening than ever, amplified rather than tamed by modernity, I have been mesmerized by the power of these elemental threats.
I recently became interested in some of the subtler, out of everyday view, but no less destructive phenomena of climate change. I visited Newfoundland to see one of the nearest available glimpses of melting icebergs which resulted in a series of paintings depicting the sweeping scale of slow dissolve. The glaciers in Greenland send pieces of themselves across the ocean to Canada where they make their way down the northeast coast each spring. Like the increasing onslaught of other unnaturally intensified phenomena, Greenland’s glaciers are melting faster and faster—two of its four ice shelves already gone, it is launching more and more icebergs. The season of my visit approached century old records for the astounding numbers of icebergs seen. These ten to fifteen thousand year old glacial chunks arrive in Newfoundland at the end of their lifespan, battered by the ocean waves, sun and wind. They are breaking, shrinking, dissolving. These harbingers come with a message, like otherworldly creatures from a distant time, dying before our eyes, a literal and metaphoric warning of more losses to come.
My latest subject is also a climate change induced crisis unfolding in our oceans, the destruction of coral reefs. Like the melting of the arctic, this waterbound environment is rapidly being altered by warming temperatures. In their beautiful death throes, the coral flouresce, emitting chemicals that color them brilliant purple and yellow in an attempt to protect themselves from overheating. This stage is followed by bleaching white—their loss of color a literal draining of life force—before their eventual death leaves behind an underwater boneyard. The death of these complex organisms has cascading effects on their surrounding ecosystems and profoundly symbolizes our interdependence on nature and the terrifying dangers currently facing all life on earth.
For more on my practice
Structure and Imagery: In Process, the Development of a Painting
“Totum animo comprendere caelum” is inscribed on the exterior of the National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma, a global nerve center for all things regarding severe weather and meterological patterns. “To embrace the whole sky with the mind”. The poetic motto of these scientists captures my desire as an artist to paint the magnitude of the sky—from sparkling blue calm to ferocious threatening grey and all the shifting subtleties of colors and implications in-between.
Painting outdoors, absorbed in beautiful environments, capturing the immediacy of landscapes has been very influential. This direct dialogue with nature deeply informs my year round studio practice. Not exactly disparate, the dark shadows in the woods and the forming clouds hint at destructive power, while the fires and tornadoes of my disaster series are as gorgeous as they are deadly. I am as equally influenced by the history of awe inspired landscape painting (from Turner’s storms to Church’s icebergs), as by the stream of violent images in our daily news feed, as well as the direct relationship with nature and organic form fed from painting en plein air; for me it is all connected.