Artist puts people in the outdoors


August 30, 2019

Cheryl Walsh Bellville

Fond du Lac artist Karen Savage-Blue always uses nature as the base for her paintings, often weaving in human forms.

The natural world and how we interact with it are Fond du Lac artist Karen Savage-Blue's inspiration for her paintings.

"Nature is always my base. My goal is to make it more accessible to folks. As human beings, we have a lot in common with our flora and landscapes."

"We should treat the earth as if it is a member of our own family," she said.

In her paintings, Savage-Blue often places the human form among plant forms, or juxtaposes them with animal or astrospherical forms, the latter suggesting longevity.

Savage-Blue's paintings, on display at The Knot gallery during September and October, are often full of vibrant reds and blues. Her wolf, for instance. "I wanted to paint the wolf in these warm blue colors, so you won't think it's a wolf but a living soul, a spirit," she said.

Some of her canvasses are full of bubbles. "Bubbles look like eyeballs. They are fragile, suggesting everything might change." In one of her playful canvasses, a crow is juxtaposed with a bubble representing a basketball.

In another, Savage-Blue depicts a woman with red-leaved plants climbing up her arms, the red connoting excitement. In another, she addresses school shootings. Blue bubbles represent mourning parents holding the remains of their children, and butterflies help them on their journey.

"I'm trying to capture the feelings," she said. "It's not photorealism."

Savage-Blue works hard with her technical skills. She studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico on a scholarship financed through the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The Institute, set up in the 1950s, aspires to give Native artists opportunities to learn new techniques and create in any form they wish, taught by accomplished Native artists and in the company of aspiring young artists from all over the country. This August, as in other years, she participated in Santa Fe's annual Native Art Market, a 96-year-old juried art show where more than 1,100 Native artists from the U.S. and Canada exhibit and sell their creations.

"I start with no preconceptions," she said. "No matter how frustrated I may be, I cannot reference any other art. Maybe I have a theme in mind, and I think 'What form in nature can I associate with this?' I study the canvas and think, hmm ... this could be a birchbark woman.'" Her subjects' bodies might look like feathers or plants.

Sometimes she paints groups of people.

"Maybe it's seasonal," she said. "The characters would like to be close to each other. Maybe they're in love. Maybe they'll pollinate. Men's fingers as stamens. Women's heads like the female part of the flower. And pollen all over the place."

In another series, "When the Buffalo Come to Tea," she painted the Dakota coming to visit woodland tribes.

"I've painted how they come, how they bring everything with them. Their whole ecosystem: wolves, buffalo, birds, dust."

Contributed Photo

Provocative paintings by Karen Savage-Blue will be on exhibit at the Pine Knot News at 122 Avenue C for the next two months.

She earned an art education degree, raised children in Duluth and taught all levels of K-12 at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School. Currently on the faculty at the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Savage-Blue teaches drawing and painting, introduction to art, American Indian art, and design.

Savage-Blue loves landscapes. Recently, she led three landscape painting workshops - "a paint-along" - at Jay Cooke State Park. Each had a full house of painters.

Enjoy a conversation with the artist and an art opening for Karen Savage-Blue 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5 at the Pine Knot News office at 122 Avenue C in West End Cloquet.

Refreshments will be offered courtesy of Cold One liquor. All ages are welcome.


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