January 16, 2013

thoughts on painting from Mike Kareken

Michael Kareken, "Auto Salvage Yard #6", 2012, 18" x 24"

I studied painting with Michael Kareken at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design over five years ago. From that distance, these are a few of the extremely helpful comments I remember him making and which often echo through my studio when I’m working.

1. When you’re up against an empty canvas, pick a color and start. “Don’t over think it.” When I was feeling anxious about starting a painting—this was so helpful.

2. “Cover the canvas as quickly as possible.” I remember MK saying this to us when I put down a few strokes and then started worrying about whether they were accurate. 

3. When mixing color, don’t go overboard. “If you need to use more than three colors (from the tube) to get where you’re going, start over.” This was so helpful to me

4. If you’re not sure where to go with the painting, “start another painting” just like it. That way you can try out the direction you’re contemplating. I found this to be one of the most enormously helpful and liberating habits in my painting practice.

5. Kareken said to me: “paint what you think looks good”. if you like a photo, what is it you like about it? Paint that.

Most of these comments relate to MK’s fundamental insight that painting is a relational practice. You can’t paint the painting in your head—get paint on the canvas. A mark can’t be perfect outside the context of all the other marks on canvas. A color can’t be right or wrong in the absence of other colors so don’t fuss.

I think the other basic insight here is that painting is a process and that you need to eliminate—ruthlessly—any thoughts or habits that get in the way of keeping the process moving. There’s nothing precious about the painting itself and you could paint it again and push it in another direction or just start over.

For me, this was great teaching.

Michael Kareken, "Suspension", 2012, Ink, 30" x 36"

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