By Gussie Fauntleroy
At a show of Karin Jurick’s paintings last spring, a woman marched purposefully up to a piece titled TRUCKIN’, which depicts a tanned, elderly woman in a swimsuit and white sunhat. Seen from the back, she carries her shoes and shirt as she strides along the water’s edge on a sunny beach.
“Someone told me to come here because they said there’s a painting of me,” the gallery visitor announced. She turned to the painting and confirmed, “That’s me!” Two weeks later another woman looked at the painting and declared, “That’s me!” Still another viewer proclaimed, “That’s my aunt!”
Jurick laughs as she sums up her view of the painting’s subject. “Everyone says that on any beach, anywhere, you see that woman. She’s a local woman who clearly walks the beach every day, she’s got muscles in her legs, she’s got her personal stride.”
That woman may well be on every beach. But it takes well-honed observation and painting skills to translate onto canvas in such a spot-on way the particular curve of the woman’s back, the purpose in her step and in the forward thrust of her head, her obvious comfort in her skin, and the age in her arms. Jurick’s ability to see how bodies look in all kinds of unposed, everyday activities is one reason galleries and collectors around the country are drawn to her work.
It is also what sparks the artist’s own passion for painting the figure. She’s been obsessed since childhood with the challenge of “getting it right”—first as she taught herself to see and to draw, and later as she continued refining her skills in observation, sketching, and rendering the figure in paint.
“I still can never get enough of it,” the 49-year-old artist confesses, sitting in her small cottage-like studio, which she converted from a rundown work shed in the back yard of her home outside Atlanta, GA. What fascinates her about painting ordinary people in all kinds of ordinary settings, she says, is the endless visual story of “who we are in a place—how we sort of melt into a chair or stand impatiently, how we put weight on one foot, how we stand differently in different kinds of shoes.”
This “ridiculous desire to paint so many things,” as Jurick puts it, propels her into the studio each morning ready to embark on a new piece. Working quickly at her desktop easel on a long workbench, where her computer also holds countless photos she’s taken, she generally starts and finishes a painting in a day. “I’d be less motivated if I came out to the studio and had to go back to the same thing I was working on yesterday,” she says, smiling.
Jurick’s engaging, expressive style is characterized by lively color, dramatic light, and the freshness and spontaneity of snapshot moments depicting people absorbed in activities they enjoy. It emerged from a confluence of interests and experiences in the artist’s early life. The daughter of an electronics engineer father and an artist mother who dabbled in multiple mediums, Karin grew up being constantly nudged into the art of seeing. And life provided her with exceptional opportunities to engage that skill.
“My brother and I laugh about it now, but we’d be on a Sunday drive and Mom would make my father stop the car. She’d get us out of the car and point out the colors of a barn. She was constantly dazzled by the colors of life,” Jurick remembers. “She would say, look at my face, look at the skin—there’s green, blue; it’s not all pink.”
When Jurick was 7 her father’s job took them to Bangkok, Thailand, where they lived for four years. Thailand was a visual, colorful, sensual feast, and Jurick’s mother was continually sketching and pointing out scenes of remarkable beauty, the artist recalls. After their return to the United States, the family visited several European cities, including Madrid, Athens, and Rome. For a creative and curious young girl on the cusp of her teen years, the experience sparked an awakening to the magnificence of art history. Standing in front of Michelangelo’s PIETA, she was struck for the first time by the reality of what must have gone into the masterpiece’s creation. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, a man really took a block of marble and sculpted this!’” she recounts. “I started to fall in love with the whole art thing.”
Living in a Chicago suburb as a teen, Jurick discovered in the city the perfect training ground for her obsession with drawing the figure, a passion that began as a child when she copied line drawings of women from her mother’s sewing patterns. Far more interested in art than academics, Jurick would skip school and accompany her father downtown. She would explore the city, meet her father for lunch—“The sun rose and set on my dad, I so admired him,” she says—then she’d people-watch all afternoon, often spending hours at the Art Institute. The experience reinforced her outgoing, confident spirit and offered endless opportunities for filling sketchbooks.
Soon a different kind of opportunity arose, one the artist now appreciates for teaching her about hard work and successfully running a business. Not long after her high school graduation, her parents decided to open a frame shop and art gallery in Atlanta. Hoping to pursue a career in illustration, she began college but was discouraged to learn she needed academic courses as well as art. She left school and worked full time for her parents.
When she was 21, her mother died. For the next 10 years Jurick and her father ran the frame shop and gallery seven days a week. When she was almost 30 her father became ill, so she managed the two businesses and cared for him for a year before he died. For 10 years after that she took care of the business, eventually overseeing a staff of seven.
Jurick’s dream of becoming an artist diminished during these years, but not just for lack of time. Watching popular, decorative paintings come and go in the shop, she began to doubt there was a market for the kind of art that grabbed her. “I thought, I don’t want to paint this,” she recalls. “So I thought I wouldn’t be able to make a living with art.”
Then the Internet came along. Jurick quickly became fluent in the use of computers, and what she discovered on galleries’ and artists’ websites—in particular work by such painters as Burton Silverman, Wayne Thiebaud, and Ben Aronson—provided a fresh infusion of excitement and hope. “I would see contemporary realism and say, ‘Now that is great. That’s what I want to do!’ It gave me an incentive to paint what I wanted to, instead of what I thought people would buy,” she says.
With her kitchen table as her workspace, Jurick began creating small paintings in acrylics and selling them on eBay. Soon she earned enough money for a low-budget transformation of the backyard work shed. The day her studio was complete she bought a set of oils and started teaching herself to use them, and within a few years galleries were taking an interest in her art. Jurick’s significant other, Brett, whom she hired 19 years ago, took over the frame and gallery business and continues to run it while she paints full time.
When it comes to color, the artist quips that she’s a “condiments girl,” meaning she’s passionate about variety. “You open my fridge and there are six different kinds of mustard and four kinds of salsa,” she says. In the same way, “with 50-ish different colors on my palette, the possibilities are endless,” she explains. “The combinations you can get are just so much fun!”
In SUNSHINE BOYS, dramatic palm frond shadows on the wall behind two boys sitting on a bench in Charleston, SC, caught Jurick’s eye one day. She snapped the picture but later realized the wall, drab and crowded with posters, didn’t fit the image in her mind. So the wall became a deep yellow-gold.
Dramatic light, again, was the inspiration for RIGHT TO PRIVACY, in which a woman sits in a phone booth with only her crossed legs visible. The artist points out that without showing a face, a painting allows viewers to identify with the subject, rather than trying to identify the subject. It’s her favorite way to depict the endlessly expressive manner in which our bodies tell stories when we’re engrossed in something, from contemplating an artwork in a museum to riding a bike or reading in a park.
In Jurick’s own case, an equivalent image of her being engrossed would show her with paintbrush in hand and focused intent in her manner as she bends over the painting on her easel. “I cannot believe I’m making a living doing this,” she proclaims, looking up. “I’m not jaded, and I never will be.”
Colorado-based Gussie Fauntleroy also writes for Art & Antiques, New Mexico Magazine, Native Peoples, and the Santa Fean
Howard/Mandville Gallery, Kirkland, WA; Morris & Whiteside Galleries, Hilton Head Island, SC; The Sylvan Gallery, Charleston, SC; 16 Patton Fine Art Gallery, Asheville, NC; www.karinjurick.com.
Charleston Art Auction, Charleston, SC, November 6.
Featured in October 2010