We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen Kurka Jensen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen Kurka, why did you pursue a creative career?
I felt compelled. All of my life. Even as a small child I could feel the energy of the earth, the pull of being outdoors. We were lucky growing up, living on the edge of a city; fields, woods and farms surrounding us. Our mother let us roam all day, only calling us in for dinner at night. It was magical and I think I’ve never really lost that. I pursued art in school, as an interest initially but always loving every new medium I found to express myself and the world around me. When I found sumi-e, where the emphasis is on evoking the spirit of your subject I found the answer to my soul. So I studied it. I took lessons from masters in the art form, never thinking I would pursue it as a profession. I felt too old to be beginning an art career. That allowed me to simply learn, not putting pressure on myself to ‘become’ an artist. And slowly, over the years I started to win awards for my work, gaining accolades from peers, friends and family. I began to believe I could be an “artist”. I worked, I studied, I painted every moment I could. Small steps, not only learning the classical lessons of sumi-e but studying on my own, experimenting. I felt driven to create my own mystical landscapes through this medium despite its difficulties and the failures. I just kept trying. I couldn’t do otherwise. And to tell you the truth, it was exciting and fun, playing/creating for the sake of beauty and passion. Following my heart.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Hi, my name is Karen Kurka Jensen, I’m a professional artist and this is my life’s work. I grew up in Minnesota among forests, lakes, granite rocks and sparkling waters. My childhood was idyllic. We were allowed to roam freely all day, returning home only for meals. Our imaginations ran wild; we were pioneers, space women (I have 4 sisters) exploring, animals living in the wild, circus entertainers and on and on it went. Every day was a new adventure. Those years expanded my vision and its where my imagination was allowed to blossom and grow. I’ve always felt at home outside. Even as a young child, I felt embraced and at the same time, could fly far afield. I sketched. Everything. Those experiences gave me my language of color, form and shape. Sometimes I just sit and look. I look at the majesty of the sky, all the amazing drama, its moods, shapes and colors. Or I look at water, the shifting surface, reflecting and revealing. One minute, still and peaceful, showing me the secrets of its depths; the next, rippling with the breath of an oncoming storm when all images are swept away. I let these things be. I breathe. I dwell in this presence, quietly, patiently. It is prayer. Prayer as the absence of wanting and asking. Prayer as emptiness, prayer as silence, prayer as stillness. Its where I’ve always felt closest to God. I receive the moment and embrace it.
John Muir wrote,“Going to the woods is going home”. My abstract landscapes take the viewer on a similar journey – away, to mystical worlds where its possible to get lost and feel at home in the same breath. When I discovered the art of sumi-e, where the importance is to connect spiritually to your subject, I found the language of my soul. Clients who purchase my work say that they feel “something” whether it’s beauty, thoughtfulness, or mindfulness speaking to them. One of them wrote to me recently, “It’s like looking at a Florida sky before a storm or a Colorado mountain stream churning with energy. Your work is organic, filled with passion, spontaneity and harmony; the balance and beauty shows itself.”
I met my sumi-e teachers while performing at the Renaissance Fair in Mpls, Minnesota, over 25 years ago. They had just returned from years studying with masters of sumi-e in China. Sumi-e means “ink painting” and is the ancient art of East Asian brush painting. The first time I picked up a brush and watched as the ink spread across the ricepaper I was mesmerized. I still am. I studied with my teachers for 10 years before breaking away to develop a style of my own. I still use the traditional materials; bamboo brushes, sumi-e ink and various natural rice papers, to create my paintings. They’ve been described as “inspirational, spiritual and lyrical” abstraction.
Other people’s comments
“What an expansive feeling you have created! Powerful and empowering at the same time! Thank you for sharing with us all”
“This image lifts me up. Thank you for your incredible works, Karen.”
“It’s rather like wine-tasting; each of us savors the flavors from your work individually. I like this new piece particularly.”
“Keep on, Karen…we need these pieces of wonder in our world!! “
“1st impression: ethereal/ mystical/beyond beautiful …”
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We just moved away from our mountain home in Utah. I have so many places and people I’d like to introduce to you there but let me concentrate on our new home in the Midwest. We moved back to be closer to our kids and grandkids. Now we live peacefully close to the Iowa River, Lake MacBride and the Coralville Lake. Miles and miles of biking and hiking trails surround us and this beautiful area. Bald eagles soar and swoop above the river in all seasons, birds of all colors and sounds fill the air and we have pine forests!! I think I would also take you on a bit of a trip to northern Minnesota (but not in the winter!) for a visit to one of my all-time favorite spots, Grand Marais – at Artists Point. This gorgeous spit of land juts out into Lake Superior and experiences all the majesty of being on an ocean. I’ve spent summers here nearly all of my life.
Everywhere we’ve lived I’ve found exceptional views and scenery, I guess that’s why I’m an artist – I see beauty everywhere. And my husband and I like to cook so besides wonderful restaurants and cafe’s everywhere we’ve lived, I would invite you home with me…
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My family first, as they always had my back. Especially my husband, David, who always believed in me. Then it would be my teachers and mentors who became some of my best friends, Susan Frame and Susan Christie.