Karen “Kallena” Chutsky’s love of the natural beauty that surrounds her – on the east and west coasts – is evident in her pastel, gouache and watercolor paintings. Walking into the new Sandpiper Art Gallery in the Chowder House building is like walking into a nature lovefest.
Her works are from photographs. “I have to work with real life – the delicate symmetry, textures, and colors in nature,” she said. “Even my pastel paper collages are from real life.”
The subjects on her canvases may be smaller than those in the murals drawn on walls in her family’s New Jersey home as a young girl, but they call out to you just the same.
Karen’s watercolors date back to age 10 and two still lifes from that time hang on the wall at the Sandpiper, just behind the counter. From the age of 9, she has studied watercolor painting – at the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, New Jersey, in Ogunquit where her family summered, at York Art Association and with Ed Betts A.W.S. in one of his watercolor masterclasses. She was 16.
Karen’s innate artistic ability and creative curiosity led her to study textile design at the AAA Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She won several gold medals.
“I fell in love with designing fabrics and New York. The Fashion Institute was in the garment district,” Karen recalled with great affection. “It was so exciting seeing racks of dresses rolling by on the sidewalks … the energy was the best of the best.”
She loved textile design so much, she opened her own shop, Kallena (Hawaiian for Karen) Designs, in Paramus, New Jersey and had a small factory in nearby Ramsey for six years. Then it was back to Ogunquit where she opened her first gallery, aptly named the Watercolor Gallery, a “cubby-hole” featuring her paintings and paper collage illustrations. This was another successful venture. “I did great. Everyone knew me there and came to see me – and buy art!”
Restless, Karen decided to close that gallery and move to Los Angeles to study animation, storyboarding, and production design with Disney. She went on to create her own animation shorts while looking for work as a storyboard artist and production designer. She worked with some well-known actors trying to make their own movies, including Francesco Quinn, son of Anthony Quinn.
Karen also found work, and love, with W.T. “Bill” Naud, actor, filmmaker-screenplay writer and game show creator. She’d heard Bill was in search of pirates for a new film venture, so it seemed only natural to find out if he needed a storyboard artist, right? Said Karen with a smile, “We met at his apartment, we looked at each other and … that was it!”
Eventually, the couple left L.A. for a home in the high desert of California until Karen’s desire to return to the East Coast, Maine in particular, brought them to Boothbay in 2016.
Some of the pastels at Sandpiper Art Gallery depict Karen and Bill’s desert backyard. And there are a few ocean views from the cottage she rented on an estate in Malibu ... But her new pastel work is all Maine. There aren’t many artists in the area who work in pastels, although Sue Heil Kibbe and Kim Traina come to mind, but Karen loves them:
“With pastels (the process is) intense and fast – grabbing a rainbow of chalk stubs, sketching and smudging until there’s a slice of life sparkling back on that paper. I'm always amazed at how a few dabs of color can say so much.”
A couple of my favorite Kallena pastels are “Lupine Blooms By Rocky Coast” and “Mooring in Foggy Dusk.” The former is a quiet serene scene of lupine along the rocky coast – perhaps from the scattered seed of Miss Rumphius! – with lovely light and shadow on the rocks … I’m sitting on a rock formation closest to the shore jutting into the water that is gently lapping against my stone seat … the tranquility of the scene is really working its magic on me … and then I swear I spied a fairy amongst those purple blooms ...
In the second painting, a boat is moored next to an island or peninsula with a lighthouse and keeper’s house. As I look at the windows of the house, they appear to be lit – by oil lamps, I imagine – the keeper seated at the kitchen table as his wife prepares to bring him a meal. Fish, no doubt. Meanwhile, when I’m not being a “peeping Thomasina,” I’m strolling about the grounds, enjoying the gorgeous sunset, the pink of the sky and how that lovely sky contrasts with the darkness of the rocks. Contentment.
This summer, though, Karen has been experimenting with gouache (a form of watercolor) – and these paintings are bold and colorful (much like the artist) and have a contemporary feel. In “Rocky Coast of Maine,” the viewer is standing above the scene on unseen rocks looking out at the water, sailboat, pine trees, islands and a lighthouse and keeper’s home that look very much like the ones in the pastel “Mooring in Foggy Dusk” – and so that story continues!
Karen has also been experimenting with painting with acrylics she uses like watercolors. She says this might be her “new thing.” And I, for one, hope it is. One of these paintings, “Fall at Lobsterman’s Cove,” is an outdoor scene that you can’t help but want to be part of. I love how the light and shadow both dance on the water ... how calming the light filtering through the trees is ... The broken reflections of the boats in the water distract the viewer from the serenity of the scene: You can hear the water’s delicate movement. And then ... you feel it. Great stuff.
Karen and gallery assistant Linda Morkeski, formerly of River Arts, have had a busy summer. In addition to selling numerous paintings, Linda said hundreds of Karen’s paper collage greeting cards have been flying out the door. And one or two commissions have come Karen’s way.
Karen likes to say, “Life is a movie.” Well, she’s certainly filmed in a number of exciting locations and starred in enough roles: Given her life to date, it’s very safe to say the cameras won’t stop rolling for quite some time.
“As I've gotten older I really appreciate the gift of being creative, the voice it gives me, and the sense of fulfillment I'll have until the day I drop because my artwork takes me in so many directions.”
For more info, visit www.kallenaartsite.com – or visit the gallery at 16 Granary Way.