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Karen Kanas – From Stage to Canvas

Performance art and visual art seem all too different in practice. In a lot of ways, they are vastly different. But, the force behind creative work, whether done in a hermetic corner of the world or performed in front of hundreds of people, has a single point of reference. “My background in the performing arts has shaped my creativity as an artist throughout my life. I share this quality with Marc Chagall who I relate to the most as the performing arts were a significant source of his inspiration throughout his artistic career”, says Karen Kanas, a performance artist turned visual artist out of Los Angeles.

Dancer in Motion, Acrylic on Canvas 30x30 © Karen Kanas

For creative reckoning, the human being retreats inwards in search of what has always been there yet has never been said. To right this wrong, some take to pen and ink, others put brush to canvas; some jump on a stage and make grand gestures, others point a camera to capture fleeting moments. Despite the obvious practical differences between the aforementioned mediums, the transition of an artist from one to another is almost always a fascinating event. How do the limitations and privileges of one medium stand against those of another’s?

Town by the Sea, Acrylic on Canvas 11x14 © Karen Kanas

This practice is fairly common with artists who either have an overwhelming creative spirit or have had creative preoccupations all their life like Karen, “When I was a child, my auntie would also take me to museums, the theatre, symphony, and opera. I remember the first opera I went to was La bohème performed by the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It was an amazing experience from the costumes to the set design and lighting. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat is such a central focal point at the Art Institute of Chicago and The America Windows by Marc Chagall. I remember seeing this as a child, and I often think about both of these pieces when I paint. I was always sketching or painting throughout my life. Whether it was an art class I took in high school, college, or continuing education, I think I was always an artist but never realized it. It took a lot of life experiences and life's journey to figure it out.”

Autumn, Acrylic on Canvas 12x16 © Karen Kanas

Having a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre (production stage management and costume design) from the Performing Arts Center, Barat College of DePaul University, she worked with theatre companies such as Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Chicago Theatre, and Phoenix Theatre. She then went on to study painting and art history throughout her years in school, in addition to studying architecture and interior design after moving to Los Angeles, California at UCLA.

Backyard in Jordan, Acylic on Canvas 20x16 © Karen Kanas

The influence of theatrical scenography can be easily witnessed in her landscape paintings; here, everything pops out towards the viewer but there is a compositional harmony that grounds the work, like in ‘Ruins’ and ‘Ruins II’. However, it would be remiss to bind all her landscape paintings to the same metric since they can be rather varied at times — a testament to her skill and ability to move fluidly between different styles. In ‘Auntie’s Garden’, the colors convey a warm tone; everything has been overwhelmed by the sheer sensual experience. She plays with those distinctions. Sometimes, she places the viewer in a scene that engages on a macroscopic level. Sometimes, the intimacy of the moment takes over the scene and overwhelms the canvas.

Part II Ammar as Launce, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Sweat Acrylic and Gouache on Canvas 30x30 © Karen Kanas

This can also be seen in her abstract works like ‘Untitled Landscape I’. It is a landscape to be deciphered: it portrays some mountains against the bronze evening sky. But, at the same time, the overwhelming sensory experience of the moment overwhelms the canvas. The strokes are visible, their depth is tangible. The color palette of the sky and the mountains is pretty similar. The mountains and the sky come together in a moment of divine eclecticism. Her portraits maintain this tradition as well. She prefers to work with acrylics.

Sunset, Acrylic on Canvas 24x20 © Karen Kanas

She was featured in DESTIG Magazine as one of their top emerging artists for 2019 and in the Los Angeles Art Association 2019 Volume 2 Catalog. She is a founding member of ArtChilli Gallery UK and Ozli based in Los Angeles. She was the recipient of the 2020 Artist of the Future Award by Contemporary Art Curator Magazine.

You can learn more about her work on or Watch her performance piece The Unseen Artist and online series Shakespeare’s Pawn I & II.


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