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Spring 2005 | Volume 28, Number 1 | Features

Response Art Work

Oil on canvas
32” diameter

Scott Karman
SPU Adjunct Professor of Art

WHEN SCOTT KARMAN, adjunct professor of art at Seattle Pacific University, sets out to paint, he never knows what will happen. “If I went outside and said, ‘I want to see a dog in the clouds today,’ and looked up and saw a dog, I’d be disappointed,” he explains. “I want to look up and not know what I’ll see. That’s how it is with my painting.”

Working up to four years on a single painting, Karman builds a surface over time, adding paint and thinning it back. He works at being inventive, he says, not trying to create something nameable.

This painting belongs to a body of work exploring physical and pictorial space using a circular format. Karman even builds his own round canvases. People tell him his paintings look like Pangaea, petri dishes, or planets. Lined up on a wall, the grouping does look like the solar system, he admits.“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he says. “I enjoy hearing what people see in my work. But for me, it’s about a specific character of space in the vernacular of abstract painting.”

Last year, he taught art at a Sri Lankan orphanage, which was later hit by the Asian tsunami. The children were upstairs when the wave reached land, and all were unharmed.

“In that culture,” says Karman, “people are punished for going outside the lines in art. The kids were afraid to touch the page. In my art, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes; you just start, letting an idea evolve.”

On Karman’s last day at the orphanage, everyone wanted to paint more. He laid a large canvas on the grass. “They went berserk with paint tubes, brushes, and fingers — and ended up painting me instead,” he recalls with a smile.

Karman acknowledges his work is hard to describe in words. “I just try to create a space and hope other people will like to be in that space, too.”

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