Karen Lüderitz: the experience of painting
Edward Shaw
Santiago, 2012

It all began with her grandmother’s sewing box. As a child, Karen Luderitz played with a rainbow of buttons she discovered in the family home in Viña del Mar. That simple pastime was to define how she would relate to creativity as she grew. Instead of inventing games with those buttons, she constructed combinations of color according to her sensitivity and was bewitched by the results. She never forgot the impact of these first encounters with color as a trigger of emotions and sensations.

Her path as a painter, which followed a rewarding career as a designer, has developed through her relationships with color and the possibilities of combining and juxtaposing different tones. Her attitude when confronting a canvas, nevertheless, is that of a scientist; she approaches the canvas as if she were conducting an experiment. Her studio is a laboratory, bereft of personal references. There are no papers, souvenirs, photos, just a borrowed book about an acclaimed universal artist. Her challenge is with herself.

There are painters who resolve a painting before applying the first brushstroke. They work from a sketch or a precise mental image. The challenge is in the mastery of interpretation in itself, of transposing exactly what they ‘see’ to the canvas. There are other artists who approach an empty canvas with an infinity of conflicting emotions, fears, certitudes, prospects without being able to visualize any sort of image. They start from scratch: it is chance, intuition, a spark that ignites their incursion onto the canvas. They may start with a splotch, a line, a color, or an unidentifiable squiggle. They advance by acknowledging a hunch, by following the fingerprint of destiny.

Karen finds herself once the paintbrush begins to bathe itself in pigment and sweep across a colorless surface. The brain loses its monopoly and deeper powers release their substance. She begins at times with a ‘seed’, a small strip of wood stained with the lifeblood of her vision, that essence which contains the most personal and valuable of an individual. That is her way to get in contact with the core of the composition that is to emerge onto the untouched canvas.

Many attempts at painting originate in a personal search, in complying with a purpose: to be the best, to become rich, to earn prestige, or simply to endure the test of time. Some manage to program themselves to reach their objectives and attain their goals. There are others who find plenitude in living the process, experiencing the act of painting. They lose themselves in the process; they live the experience as a path, a trip.

Karen’s is an investigation of the nature of color, carried out simply, directly. She does not seek to express herself in lyrical expressivity, but through a synthesis that emerges from her receptivity. She reveals her impressions, those instances that are imprinted in her visual memory. They pass through the filter that directs her hand to cover the canvas with successive layers of color that are combined with care and affection. She almost embroiders her canvases with swathes of textures that can be built of sand or, for example, extract of oak. The result approaches the fortuitousness that defines the work of a ceramist who plays hide-and-seek with glazes, pursuing the miracle of the perfect fusion of colors and textures.

An observer of Karen’s work finds himself before a sea of color, a sea alive with tonalities that dance to the rhythm of the tide. Her rare graphic interventions contribute to construction of the signification of her intention. It is an apparently accidental construct that suggests more than it informs, that insinuates but never insists.

As occurs in so many manifestations of visual arts, the exercise of the art of painting has different registers, codes, frequencies and tactics. It may respond to esthetic, chromatic or structural demands, or cerebral impulses, technical mechanisms or spiritual sentiments. Some artists express themselves in certain ranges of tonalities, some wish to tranquilize the viewer, others perturb him, and others seek complicity. In the case of Karen, she is shooting for her own personal fulfillment.

Let us consider, for example, the series she titles “Maps”. In order to create a series of work, Karen begins with what she calls ‘seeds’ in recognition of the embryos from which life springs. This simulacrum of a sketch captures the explosion of the idea, her conception of what is to be a larger canvas. She stains a small strip of wood with a dash of blue, quickly adding another, and another, placing each tone at the edge of the other, seeking an equilibrium that satisfies her eye. The procedure is methodical; each step is an act of devotion. There are no outbursts of uncontrolled spontaneity. She does not splash color like Jackson Pollock; she distributes her palette like someone impregnated with the spirit of Mark Rothko.

In synthesis, the purpose of a map is to guide us from one place to another, by the route of our choice. Karen is constantly traveling the route of her personal search and, through painting, creates the ‘map’ that leads her toward her destiny. The term ‘map’ is a metaphor that registers the progress of her pilgrimage.

For Karen the trip has mobilized her throughout her life. Traveling opens the mind to new dimensions, the eye to different colors; her sensitivity faces unknown stimuli. In her case, the results are reflected in the titles she chooses for the different bodies of work she creates:  “Atacama”, with marked characteristics of the desert and the legacy of pre-Columbian civilizations; “Adriatico”, the magic sea that churns blues like a blender; and “Fisuras’, which celebrates the majestic rocks along the coast at Tunquén.

Each landscape carries its emotional and energetic charge. According to the receptivity of each of us, Karen’s antennae convert what she has incorporated into swirls of color that claim their reality in the canvases that she paints. Her work is a faithful reflection of her essential intentionality. Her sense of commitment to her vocation is unwavering. She seeks her bearings in painting.

Karen cites ‘Ithaca”, a poem by the Greek poet Konstantino Kavafis, that recommends: “Ask that the path be a long one… / Do not hurry the trip / better that it lasts many years / and be you aged when you arrive.” We can confirm in Karen’s case that it is the trip that is worthwhile and not the anecdotal archive of the paintings painted. Each painting is a small step on this ‘odyssey’ that is life. To achieve such clarity of concept is a giant step forward.

She also quotes Pablo Neruda’s “Canto General”: she chooses a phrase that can be applied to her own painting: the poet speaks of the “victorious color of time”. It is the color to be found in her painted seas, her deserts, her millenary rocks. She paints timeless scenery, landscapes beyond the limits of the calendar. The palette of nature changes constantly and always repeats itself in another moment and a different circumstance. To capture the perennial is often the most urgent ambition of a painter.

The artist also tries to increase the repertory of color; he seeks to surpass himself in each new painting. He attempts to transmit the discoveries of that search. In different ways, each one of us looks for himself in the painting of another. The relationship between the painting and the person who looks at it is incomprehensible and unilateral. This relationship is established at different levels: cerebral, intellectual, emotional, intuitive, visceral…

Karen aims all her prowess at capturing the mass, the volume of nature, more than just documenting its surface. Through the transparencies that sprout from her brushstrokes, she achieves concentrating the attention on the totality of her purpose and not in the details that, for example, accompany the process instead of fragmenting it. Each one of her series reminds us of what she has incorporated in her travels through the realm of color.

There are common reminiscences in these portraits of the furtive presence of color and its most evanescent tonalities. Who does not carry the visual memory of the first vision of the immensity of the sea; the astonishment before the omnipresence of the desert? Karen’s intention, nevertheless, is not to manipulate our memories, but to present her own findings, her own experience.

She offers the vision of a person whose directness defines her purpose, an ambitionless one that does not impose its projection. She lets us absorb her design and draw our own visual conclusions, letting the purity of color and the spirit of chance impregnate our retinas with the sensation of pleasure, even plenitude. She proposes that we reanimate the astonishment of that first encounter with the spell that nature at its purest can cast.

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