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Meet Karen Kinney

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Kinney.

Karen, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was always creative as a kid, drawing and painting, constructing things, and dabbling in all kinds of arts and crafts. To this day, one of my favorite childhood photos is of me standing in front of a collage I made that was selected to hang in our local library. I think I was about 7 or 8 years old. I also loved music and played the piano and sang throughout my entire childhood. Being creative was hard-wired into my DNA.

I toyed with the idea of pursuing interior design in college but ended up in the field of social work instead. This didn’t last long, however, and I decided to return to the arts in my early 30’s. This coincided with a move from Chicago to California, first the Bay Area, and then to LA in 2006.

Los Angeles is really where my creativity took off. It was upon moving here that I decided I wanted to pursue art whole-heartedly, and the incredible creative vibe of the city supported this dream. I began with making small collages and pursued gallery shows for many years. I eventually moved into creating larger installations of various recycled materials, and from there moved into public art.

For me, Los Angeles has been the ideal city to develop as a creative. It really is the place where people come and pursue their dreams. And if you couple that pursuit with hard work over the long haul, anything is really possible here.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have definitely been challenges along the way. Being an artist is not an easy path, nor is it a clear-cut one. It requires being comfortable with ambiguity and a willingness to figure things out as you go. When I first began, I was looking for the clear-cut path, and it took me a while to realize there wasn’t one.

Also, it was a challenge to learn how to manage the energy flow and cycle of creative work. When there was one opportunity, there would usually be several more all at once, and then there would be periods of absolutely nothing. Kind of like when it rains, it pours. And then when it doesn’t, it’s really dry.

The periods of no rain were hard for me to navigate, and it took time to learn that this ebb and flow is how creativity seems to work. The challenge is to show up regardless, whether there are a million people knocking on your door or nobody. The work is still there to do, and being faithful to it requires discipline and diligence.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I am a mixed media artist and writer. When I first ventured into creating art, I began with making small collages. This morphed over time into the creation of “wall sculptures,” basically larger mixed media pieces that have 3D elements. I often create with found materials and things I can recycle, like wood, old paper, and books. I like taking things others would discard, simple materials, and combining them in a way that results in something larger and more complex. The overarching goal with my art is to create something new and unexpected from something old, giving life to the found object in a fresh way.

Creating these larger pieces of work has led to public art opportunities, including most recently an installation at the international terminal at LAX, as well as discussions with the public library in downtown for a future site-specific work. As my interest in public art has grown, I’ve also done a few mural projects to give back to the community, including two in Los Angeles and one in Mexico. And even though the gallery scene was a great place to start out as an artist, I find creating work in the public realm to be much more meaningful. It reaches a broader audience and embodies a more democratic spirit, allowing art to really be for the people.

Writing has also become a significant part of my creative expression in recent years, and in 2017 I published my first book entitled “The Reluctant Artist: Navigating and Sustaining a Creative Path.” It’s about the creative process and what I’ve learned over the years in my artistic journey. The book is intended to encourage the pursuit of creativity and help people stay inspired in this pursuit over the long haul. Through it, I hope to encourage others along their own creative path.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?
Not to sound cliche, but, I think the proudest moment of my career is rooted in the fact that I’ve allowed myself to take the journey of becoming an artist at all. Certainly, there are career achievements that were especially meaningful, such as the recent airport project and publishing a book, but, the reality is there are many people who have an interest in creative work but let the inherent obstacles keep them from ever pursuing it.

I encountered plenty of my own barriers for a long time that kept me on a non-creative path. So, to have broken through so many of those inner and outer walls makes me feel very proud. It’s kind of along the lines of becoming who you’re truly meant to be. And that is not always an easy journey to take. I feel gratified that I’ve gone down that path and am still evolving creatively, staying challenged and allowing new expressions to emerge.

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