Emerging Artists | Kari Tirrell

Not your grandmother’s still life

Kari Tirrell, Saturday Evening Puzzle, pastel, 18 x 24.

Kari Tirrell, Saturday Evening Puzzle, pastel, 18 x 24.

This story was featured in the May 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

When Kari Tirrell is creating one of her lively still-life paintings, she isn’t necessarily thinking about a message to convey to the viewer. But on some level, perhaps unconsciously, she wants to evoke “a sense of fun and happiness,” she says. “I absolutely love that I get to do what I do, and I hope that comes through in my work,” she adds.

Tirrell, who lives in Washington, explains that her satisfaction comes from collectors when they tell her that every time they look at her work, it 
makes them smile. Indeed, who wouldn’t smile upon viewing Tirrell’s still life 
depicting toy trains heaped on top of each other and titled TRAIN WRECK? Who wouldn’t be engaged by TRAFFIC JAM, featuring toy cars and trucks also piled up helter skelter? Tirrell even has a name for this series of works—she has aptly dubbed them her “pile paintings.” When she decided to experiment even more with the old masters’ traditional genre, she created a still-life piece that allowed her to incorporate her love of figurative work. In SATURDAY EVENING PUZZLE, Tirrell portrays scrambled puzzle pieces featuring people’s faces that display a grab bag of emotions including surprise, alarm, and pleasure.

Such complex works take the artist about a month to complete. The idea for the intricate compositions originated when Tirrell decided to paint her family’s Christmas ornaments. The creative process was such fun that she followed 
up by depicting a box of her son’s old toys. Even though the compositions may look haphazard, Tirrell says she painstakingly arranges all the different elements. She often snaps hundreds of 
reference photos of the objects arranged in different ways. “Once I get a composition I am happy with, the rest is easy,” she says.

The self-taught artist began her career by painting abstract acrylic works that she sold on eBay. While that was lucrative, she soon longed to create works in a more realistic style. In recent years, paintings such as TRAFFIC JAM and TRAIN WRECK have won numerous awards. And last year, SATURDAY EVENING PUZZLE won a top award at the Pastel Society of America’s annual show in New York. —Bonnie Gangelhoff

Meyer Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Elliott Fouts Gallery, Sacramento, CA; American Art Company, Tacoma, WA; Kirsten Gallery, Seattle, WA.

Featured in the May 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art May 2014 print issue or digital download Or subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!

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