Interview by Visual Collaborative
June 2020 7 min read
Karen Savage-Blue is a painter based in Minnesota. As a feature in our Visual Collaborative Oxygen interview series, Karen talks to us about her work, background, and aspirations as a creative professional. We also discuss her connection to The Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe and other parts of her heritage.
(VC) For art connoisseurs, enthusiasts, and patrons on the international scene who know little about your work, how do you explain it?
(Karen) My paintings portray an environment where humans and trees have equal stature. Rooted in the same primordial earth, casting shadows from the same eternal light. Sharing the desire for life. My characters narrate the joys and tragedies of being a component of this living earth and the mysteries beyond our current understanding.
(VC) How do America’s present tension and Covid-19 realities factor into your artwork and membership contributions with organizations such as the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe?
(Karen) My work has always held a plea for the vitality of our planet. I was raised to see the beauty in all living things and to have respect for its creation. Covid-19, like most sickness and disease, comes from a relationship of dissonance with our earth, our very own mother, the life force of our planet. I have chosen to stay focused on the connection we have with the earth very early on in my artistic endeavors. The Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe puts many resources towards the sustainability of our natural resources. What happens up-river flows down. Utilizing our treaty rights is necessary to keep the value of hunting and gathering at the forefront. Only healthy forests, rivers, and streams can continue to produce our foods. Our battle to keep the land strong continues. Sadly what we are up against also becomes stronger. I paint many landscapes of our beautiful reservation and the activities that take place here, giving thanks to my community’s efforts to live as close as we can to the lives of our ancestors.
Painting by Karen Savage-Blue
(VC) In your quiet or noisy moments, how do you get inspired? What makes you create the work you do. Do you seek spirituality or have a mastered discipline like other artists to attract inspiration or muses?
(Karen) It’s a strange life being an artist. For whatever reason I have this talent, I feel it is my responsibility to enhance and develop it. I remember very early in my art-making feeling a tremendous amount of guilt if to much time had passed between art projects. The only way to alleviate the pressure was to create. That process worked well during that time and kept me on track. I got into my art-teaching career for a few decades. It was so much fun engaging the youth in the art-making process. I continued to paint while teaching and things seemed just fine until something familiar hit me, the guilt. I ended up creating one 4”x6” oil pastel per-day for 18 months. The pastel subject matter varied with this series, and so did the locations where I did the actual art. I became accustomed to taking my art supplies with me where-ever I went. Time to create became valuable, and I would take advantage whenever I could. Folks became familiar with an artist in action amongst them. I could not imagine how awful I would feel if a day got skipped. I ended this series and took an 18-month break to get my Masters in Education. Once I completed my degree, it was time to do another series. October 1st, 2013, was the start date for my 365 Landscape Series. I would paint one 8”x10” oil painting of a landscape I photographed the same day. There were many times when the painting went significantly past midnight. But when I was done, my sense of accomplishment felt great. I continue to work in series. I know that creating art is a major factor in maintaining my wellbeing. I have to paint it. It’s a good thing that I love to do.
(VC) A perfect world does not exist, but if one did what core values would you make a staple in the community
(Karen) Core Values would be: All of our actions affect the earth, be gentle, and be kind to our mother, she has a future to support.
How could a teacher do that? Why did she betray me? Those were questions that I had to find answers. I have found that when it comes to male counterparts, I have to be better than them to be considered equal or close to it
(VC) In the present work world of patriarchal microaggressions, there seems to be a decrease in empathy. Please tell us about your own experiences in the creative sector as an artist, how it may relate?
(Karen) I remember so vividly my first realization that I was expected to concede to the male ego. I was in the 6th grade of a small private school and was the last to run in a timed race. The teacher used a stopwatch, so everyone knew what each other’s time was. I had to beat the time of the boy that was my friend. We often raced with each other during recess and on the way home from school. When it was my turn to run around that gymnasium, I remember the color of the floor, the sound of my tennies against it, and I remember taking the corners so incredibly well. When I got to the end I looked at the stopwatch, I was the top runner of the whole school. I felt it at that moment. But the teacher would not stop the watch, and I told her, “I’m here, I’m done, stop the watch. Stop the watch”. I remember her face looking at the watch, waiting until the seconds passed the boys’ time. Those were dead seconds, and those seconds were a lie. How could a teacher do that? Why did she betray me? Those were questions that I had to find answers. I have found that when it comes to male counterparts, I have to be better than them to be considered equal or close to it. I had realized that when the boy said, “I beat you” that he beat me not in the race but something else. But it is a race that I still want to run because I know that I still win even though I lose.
(VC) Some mention different historical times as a period they admire for affluence or culture. If you could time-warp to any era to collaborate with its culture, what period would it be and why?
(Karen) I want to go back to the cave painters, the rock peckers. There is a mystery in their work. Their beliefs for creating must have been strong, necessary for survival. And I wonder if we are really that far from their ways and reasons.
Painting by Karen Savage-Blue
(VC) At this stage of your collective accomplishments, If you can work alongside any international public figure, brand, or enterprise. Who would it or they be, and why?
(Karen) I currently live on my reservation, a quiet secluded place. My paintings reflect this serine existence. I have been to many places outside of these reservation boundaries, France, Russia, England, Mexico, and quite a few states. I have seen art from many cultures. If I were to venture out, I would hang out and paint with the Plein Air Painters. I’m excited about exploring other landscapes and enjoying working with and being in the company of others who also love to paint it live. I like group activity; it is kinda like running a race.
(VC) Thanks for your time speaking with us Karen, Is there anything else you would like to share with our international audience?
(Karen) My paintings welcome you into the Minnesota Woodlands a landscape lush with many lifeforms.