Culture » Visual Arts

Karen Khoury frees paint from the confines of the canvas


  • Griffin Swartzell
Though her work has structural elements extending up from the canvas, Karen Khoury says it’s not sculpture. All she’s using is paint.

“At first, people thought it was clay. People thought I was using a different medium,” she says. “They didn’t really know what was going on.”

The idea to cut, tear and assemble poured, dry paint as a major component of her art came together when she was in graduate school at Ohio University around 1998. She noticed some big pieces of dried paint one day and realized she could use them as structural elements, freeing her from the constraints of a two-dimensional canvas. In the years since, she has anchored pieces to flat canvases on and off, and her most recent work tends to be in that vein.

Khoury, now the commercial gallery and retail manager at the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, says she’s a fan of more minimalist and abstract art. While traditional works are composed from a foreground-middle ground-background structure, abstract pieces use a two-dimensional grid, which demands the viewer take in the image more holistically. She’s deliberately drawn attention to the idea of the grid as well, weaving strips of dried paint atop a flat base to depict it. Pouring paint on different surfaces also gives her access to a wide range of textures she wouldn’t otherwise have.

“My work has two sides,” she says. “It’s quite formal, but there’s a part of it that’s very much a narrative about women and craft in history, as makers of things.”

She describes an intimacy in her pieces, drawn from their relatively small size and their handmade nature. She also honors the creativity of women “within the domestic realm” in her pieces — those “making a home, making a meal, making clothing for the family” — by preferring house paints as materials in her pieces.

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