Sunday, April 10, 2011


ARTIST KAREN PHILLIPS Photo by Ruth Schowalter

Hallelujah for FELLOW ART PILGRIMS! Hallelujah for KAREN PHILLIPS, visual artist, lover of color and texture! On a coolish Sunday in the month of March, Karen and I huddled in Sycamore Gallery Place in Decatur, Georgia, where we both have studios, and discussed her SPIRITUAL and ARTISTIC JOURNEY.

As a result, I am delighted to offer to you, dear SOUL BLOGGER, the third SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM INTERVIEW with KAREN PHILLPS on my blog: COFFEE WITH HALLELUJAH (See SAP Interview 1 with Cecelia Kane and SAP Interview 2 with Robey Tapp)!

HALLELUJAH: Give me your personal definition of ART.

KAREN: Art is a conversation between souls. Art is whatever you perceive to be art, a personal perception.

HALLELUJAH: Tell me about this conversation between SOULS.

KAREN: The artist is expressing something. The person looking at the artist’s work is viewing that expression, and it is a dialogue that is going on between the two of them. Art is a dialogue.

It used to be that art was in this “box.” Art was functional or religious in nature. It is so much more open then it used to be.

HALLELUJAH: What about you, Karen, and you, the ARTIST—do you have a conversation?

KAREN: There is no separation. My art is my outlet for expressing what I see and for what I am feeling. Before I painted, I wrote. I have always had urges to create something. The struggle was to find that outlet.

HALLELUJAH: Tell me a little bit about the struggle.

KAREN: My mother is an artist. When I was a kid, I watched her. She was always looking at things in a different way. For example, she would see a rock, and see a face in the rock and paint what she saw. We would go to a store and look at things, she would say, “You could make that.” I learned how to see possibilities. From my father I learned the beauty of words, of reading poetry and a love of learning.

MOTHER LOVE: I was simply playing with shapes, but the result gives me this feeling of being hugged and comforted.

HALLELUJAH: And high school was part your creative development…

KAREN: High school was rough for me. I was taking “remedial” English because I hadn’t done well on a test that I didn’t care about, but I turned it into a creative writing class. I got into science fiction and started writing it. There was nothing I could learn in the class, so I wrote every day and found it exciting. I would create stories in my mind on the bus before school. So this English class became an outlet.

After a year of college, I wanted to work and got into the corporate world.  I went through changes. I stopped writing. I stopped any kind of creative work. I got frustrated. I didn’t know why. When the frustration got tough, I would just write and write.

HALLELUJAH: You were definitely on a SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIMAGE, seeking…

KAREN: I was doing a lot of searching. I read a lot of self help books. They weren’t answering any questions. I eventually found a life coach who told me I was creative. I didn’t want to believe her. I had a background in computer programming. I loved science, biology and physiology. My mother was the creative one who could paint and draw. Not me.

HALLELUJAH: But did you listen to your creative coach?

KAREN: I took a graphic design class. We did all kinds of things. The last thing we did was to create a poster. I didn’t have a computer that could do large work, so I decided to paint a portion of it. Just think, at my job, I worked 60-70 hours a week. Then for this graphic design class, I was up all night painting my poster.
COLORS BLENDING: We are looking at wet paint and I was playing with the process of color drying in a gel medium and the center of it started to glow. This image no longer exists except in this photograph because when it dried the glow disappeared. It was like capturing the spark of joyous color.
I was painting stripes of color and the sun was coming up. I was in heaven. I thought it was graphic design that I was excited about, but it was the act of painting that was exciting. I experienced a sense of joy, a sense of coming home.

Following that experience, I took a lot of graphic design classes and got promoted. I loved helping clients clarify their visions and worked all hours of the day and night to bring these visions to fruition.

UNDERNEATH SERIES: This Underneath series began with doing exercises from one of Mary Todd Beam’s books. I extended the process. It took creating layers to prepare the surface for painting. I discovered the beauty of visual texture and expressed images from my childhood fascination with mountains and imagined dinosaurs. It brought me back to that wonder and expanded imagination.

At some point I felt the need to take fine art classes, but I ignored that urge. I continued working. At one point, I attended an Artist Conference Network (ACN) coffee, and I thought graphic design would be my creative outlet. I wasn’t an artist, so why would I join something like ACN?

HALLELUJAH: Wow! Why is it that we often ignore what we truly want to do? A SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM’S journey is not an easy one!

KAREN: In 2001, I started having problems with my back. I began limping. I was in shear agony, but I was determined to continue working. I had projects to do. What would happen if I weren’t there. I was giving my all to the company.

HALLELUJAH: If we don’t follow our HEARTS, there may be strong negative consequences.

KAREN: Yes….One day, I was trying to stand up in my little cubicle. I must have had an expression of pain on my face, and the human resources person saw me and sent me home. “We can’t have you working like this,” she said. I thought, OH NO I HAVE TO GO HOME!

HALLELUJAH: Someone else had to tell you that you were sick!
CONTEMPLATION: I watched a video with Robert Burridge just experimenting with shapes. The way he flung paint across the paper spoke to me. I wanted to try it. I started flinging paint on paper and letting my stream of consciousness flow.
KAREN: I had an MRI done and discovered I had a herniated disk. My life coach told me I needed to take disability and heal. But I was so focused on work—being a “worker bee.” So I focused on getting better. Walking and getting surgery, but surgery made everything worse.  I tried everything from acupuncture to hydrotherapy to get rid of the pain, but nothing worked.  In the meantime, I focused on being able to walk better in longer and longer spans.

Then I thought I would try painting, and I stayed with it this time. The drawback is that I could only paint 20 minutes a day, but I did that every day. I started painting a lot and very quickly. 

I was putting these paintings out on the lawn to dry. One day, I was picking them up and found money underneath them. After that, every time I painted, I started discovering positive things around me.

HALLELUJAH: Ahhh…a PILGRIM found how ART matters. ART heals. ART moves one forward!

KAREN: Yes! I started being open to being an artist. My life was changing. I became a member of ACN, where I would have to show my work. I was shaking in my boots and sweating. And that was even before the first time I had to show my work!

After the training we received in ACN, I began to choose to let people see the inner me. That’s how it was with my first solo show. I decided it was going to be a conversation between two souls.

“I’m sharing this with people,” I told myself. “We are going to have a great time.” I set up the exhibit area so I could have conversations with viewers. I had little cafe tables and chairs. People sat at them talking amongst themselves, I moved around talking with them. It made me want more conversations.

HALLELUJAH: So your earlier struggle to “become” a SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM was resolved in creating conversations between SOULS—yours and the viewers?

KAREN: Yes. And I also ended my struggle to find words to express what I am feeling at the moment--texture and color.


KAREN: Spirituality. That’s a tough one for me because I’ve had all of these past experiences which I have left alone for awhile. Spirituality is the connection between everything. It’s that connectedness. It’s that connecting with. I believe that we are all one. So spirituality is connecting with that oneness, understanding it, and being it.

HALLELUJAH: What do you understand about that ONENESS?

KAREN: That it’s beyond words. That’s it’s everything. It is the action and inaction. It is love and not love. Oneness is beyond the words.

HALLELUJAH: How do you experience ONENESS?

KAREN: Silence.

HALLELUJAH: Tell me more about this SILENCE.

KAREN: it is the act of detachment. Being in the moment. Not being attached to anything. No expectations. Viewing what is. Seeing what is.

HALLELUJAH: What is the connection between the ART you make and your SPIRITUALITY?

KAREN: Art is being in the moment and not being attached to the outcome. For example, let’s look at how I start a painting. I start by drawing lines. Getting into that space of letting things go. I draw a line, and it s not predetermined. It’s not what I want or don’t want. It’s shapes and circles—lines.

BLUE IN THE KEY OF RED: I was experimenting with painting on plastic, a nonabsorbent surface, watching the paint swim and blend and using salt to add texture. What resulted “wowed” me because the blue was so deep and the overall feeling was being in an underwater world.
Then it is spreading color onto the surface of the canvas. Letting it leave me. Combining other colors. This is a conversation of color, shape and movement and  using a lot of water. The way the colors smooth and blend—that is an act of creation. The act of creation is pure joy.

It is connecting with that oneness. And expressing it.

HALLELUJAH: In what way does your ART enhance your SPIRITUALITY?

KAREN: It helps me stay connected to EVERYTHING, that basic being. (Karen lifts her hands, palms up, in the air on either side of her head and pauses.)

KAREN PHILLIPS: Posing in front of a recent painting at Sycamore Place Gallery in her studio. Photo by Ruth Schowalter

KAREN: It goes back to that conversation between two souls. I’m expressing the JOY of BEING! The JOY of CONNECTEDNESS. The JOY of ONENESS. It’s a stillness even though there is action in painting. There is a stillness.

HALLELUJAH: Earlier you spoke about finding that “good things” came from your ARTmaking.  Can you reflect about these “good things” now in terms of your current state of health?

KAREN: Let me talk about my last round of working professionally as a graphic designer. I was working fulltime and in ACN. I began to realize that I couldn’t multitask between graphic design and my art. Every time I set time aside to paint, I noticed that my job would encroach on my painting. I noticed this pattern.

At the same time, I was dating Wayne who asked me to marry him, and I was training to walk a marathon. I noticed that as I increased the distances I walked, I had to eat constantly about 12 times a day. I was drinking coffee like it was water. My work hours were getting insane. I was working 7 days a week. I kept trying to find solutions about my persistent hunger and need for caffeine. Doctors told me they couldn’t find what was wrong with me. Thyroid medication worked for a little while.  All the while, I had this strong desire to paint. It was getting stronger and stronger.

When things were going haywire at work, I was calm and could find solutions. I loved the rush and stress. In fact, I was addicted to it, but it wasn’t fulfilling me. At some point I wanted to say “no” to projects. I wanted to choose which projects I worked on and how to complete them. Yet I was supposed to give clients what they wanted—even if it was unrealistic.

At one point, I said no to a client and was strongly reprimanded by my boss. From that point on, I started to complain a lot. My situation felt insane. Finally, I went to my boss and told her I was having health issues and that I needed to work less. She told me I needed a note from the doctor. She wasn’t willing to work with me. I was crashing.
 My body was telling me to stop. I knew I needed to make that switch—to be an ARTIST—and get rid of this WORK-A-HOLIC!

HALLELUJAH: Then you really got sick, I remember. You couldn’t go to work. You couldn’t paint. You took your medications for pituitary problems and watched TV all day long. You were shut down by the GREAT MYSTERY.

KAREN: I had a calling, and I was ignoring that calling. Through the act of keeping my desire to paint silent and quelling it my body shut down. I was so worried about making money and being independent that I allowed myself to get so sick. Never again will I allow that to happen to my creativity.

HALLELUJAH: Hallelujah PILGRIM! Thank you for your testimony that ART HEALS! As you have SOJOURNED, who do you consider influential in the way you think, act, and make ART?

KAREN: While I was having health issues with my back and starting to paint, I found a book by Mary Todd Beam. Her images intrigued me. I couldn’t understand half of what she was talking about, but I found something I could try out. My first series, “The Underneath Series,” came from learning Beam’s technique of painting.

Joseph Campbell’s concept of home is also something influenced me. Now, I’m doing some inner work. And Campbell explains the stages and trials that the hero goes through. At one point, the hero must let go of everything.


KAREN: Yes, it is being ONE with ALL—everything and nothing. This is the journey to NIRVANA. The purest voice is the act of creating art.

HALLELUAH: Thank you for sharing your PURE VOICE with me Karen!

AT HOME: Karen Phillips in her backyard with Ella and Spencer, about a 3-mile drive from Sycamore Place Gallery. Photo by Ruth Schowalter

RED GREEN BLUE: Karen was inspired by a client’s commission to add red, green, and blue, to one of her images. "I still kept the flow of my process and then saw the colors sparkling. Color added another dimension to this conversation I was having with myself about shapes."
MORE ABOUT KAREN PHILLIPS: To see more of Karen's work, go to her WEBSITE. To follow what she is thinking and doing, go to her BLOG. To get news about her upcoming exhibits see her Facebook PAGE.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to Sycamore Place Gallery, home to the studios of Karen Phillips and Hallelujah Truth (aka Ruth Schowalter) for providing a rich environment for us to work and do this interview. Loving appreciation to the first interviewees Spiritual Art Pilgrim Interviews 2011, Cecelia Kane and Robey Tapp, for setting an incredible precedent for the way artists can talk about their SOUL work. Huzzahs to husband Chiboogamoo for the technical support as well as the love he provides on this intriguing interview PATH. SOUL BLOG with me at COFFEE WITH HALLELUJAH

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