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  Featured Artist
 

c. Karuna Karam

c. Karuna Karam

Artist Karuna Karam with some of his brilliant meditation and energy paintings
Photo credit: Oli Robbins

Signpost Featured Artist

Flowing from the divine: the paintings of Karuna Karam

—Oli Robbins

Karuna Karam dedicated himself to painting less than twenty years ago, and for the past 46 years he has been devoted to the practice of meditation, which directly inspires and inspirits his art. Growing up in Northern Michigan, Karuna feels a connection to nature, its light and subtleties. Though a handful of his paintings represent Lake Michigan and the harmonious interaction between its water and blanketing sky, Karuna is a self-professed abstract artist, usually painting experiences or emotions that are pre-verbal and nonrepresentational. His work is highly textured and three-dimensional, incorporating sand, powdered clay, mica powder, quartz powder, and a variety of other mediums.

Rather than painting on an upright canvas supported by an easel, Karuna lays his canvases horizontally, and often begins by applying an acrylic base. He’ll then add several thin layers and spread the paint around by spraying water on the canvas. Karuna enjoys using interference paints, which reflect light and assume different colors depending on the viewing angle. The micas and other powders are poured onto the wet paint, then he utilizes brushes, palette knives, and sponges to achieve different textures.

“I’ll often start with one basic color, that’s the foundation. Then I start building. I interact with the painting and let it tell me what it’s doing next. It’s a very organic process, allowing the painting and myself to evolve into something.” He began employing the micas and powders after a destructive house fire in 2010 in which 108 paintings were lost. While rebuilding his material supply post-fire, he discovered an assortment of art-specific minerals and began experimenting with them.

Many of Karuna’s works are “meditation paintings,” growing directly out of a meditation that takes place before painting. Karuna allows whatever “flowed out” of him “to come through” in the resultant work, sometimes swelling forth “right from the divine.” He explains, “Sometimes, both during meditation and afterwards, I receive visual imagery and sometimes it’s very colorful. Sometimes I’ll get vague images and sometimes a clear image. I go to the studio and start working. A lot of times, the image just changes, but that’s part of the joy of painting: allowing that process to happen.”

Although Karuna doesn’t consider every work a “meditation painting,” he does begin each day with meditation, so all of his works are indelibly connected to his practice. Karuna experiences calm and tranquility while painting, and he hopes his works offer a similarly peaceful viewing experience.

Says Karuna, “most of my paintings have a very transcendent quality—beyond the realm of thought, harder to express in words. Sometimes a lot of energy comes up and the energy wants to express itself in different colorations.” His oeuvre offers a bevy of different color schemes. Those dominated by whites are typically meditation paintings. Others—like those saturated in deep reds and earth tones—may have been created on the heels of having spent time surrounded by stunning and powerful natural beauty, like the red rocks of Sedona. One series of paintings, entitled Maya Piercing the Vale of Illusion, includes paintings that don between five and ten coats of paint and possess a more rhythmic energy than his other works. Karuna explains that the many layers of paint correspond to our layered existences. “We have multilayered lives, and sometimes we lose track of what is reality and the essential nature of life.” These works raise the question: “can you see through the veil and into the essential reality?”

Karuna holds six educational degrees: a B.F.A in Painting, a Ph.D. in Education, an Ed.S in Special Education Administration, an M.A. in Special Education, an M.A. in Counseling, a B.A. in Psychology, and a B.A. in Sociology. He taught art to special education students for 24 years (prior to committing himself to his own artistic pursuit) and taught Transcendental Meditation for 25 years. Most of his life was spent in Michigan before moving to Placitas, a decision prompted by his many vacations to New Mexico. Michigan’s water still calls to him, but he enjoys the abundant sunshine and art community proffered by Placitas.

Karuna can be contacted at 410-4595 or by email (robertkarunakaram@gmail.com). His paintings are viewable at karunakaram.com and in person at Factory on 5th Art Space in Albuquerque. This month his works are featured at the Placitas Community Library as well; meet the artist during the opening reception on April 8, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Karuna will also be participating in the Placitas Studio Tour on Mother’s Day weekend, May 7 and 8.

 
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