Sunday, January 26, 2014

Karina Puente: Pulse, Pintura, and Passion

Olga García Echeverría


My current muse is a brave woman, unafraid of challenge and patient with process. She is an ancestor...made of black charcoal and salt water. 

–Karina Puente


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about attending the 2013 AROHO Writing Retreat in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, where I met many amazing women writers and artists from around the country. One of those women is pintora-extraordinaire Karina Puente, who grew up in Santa Ynez Valley, California and graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts University. Currently, Puente resides and paints at her East Coast studio and works with the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program as a teaching artist. Her work, collected privately around the world, has been featured in museums such as the Corcoran National Gallery, the Miami MoCA, and the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art.

Women Who Sit Final Layered Drawing

As AROHO's 2013 Artist-in-Residence, Puente not only made a lasting impression on many of us at the retreat, she made a lasting impression of us. Aside from the daily watercolor classes that she facilitated, her retreat project, Women Who Sit, was a visual morphing wonder. She shares, "For the AROHO Writers Retreat Project, I drew 15 writers' portraits on a single piece of paper and used stop-motion animation to document the drawing as it changed, resulting in only one woman’s face with many stories beneath it." 

This is a picture of the final Women Who Sit drawing, which is layered with the caras of 15 mujeres. It's difficult to articulate exactly how the layering occurred, but you can check out a cool, short video of the process here:

When asked what inspired Women who Sit, Karina said, "I came up with this idea after envisioning a work that could excite me and would drive me to connect with other creative, powerful women. A beautiful component of site-specific work is to imagine how others will interact and be affected by the art. I wanted to make a project that was ambitious and yet simple."

Those of us who posed for Women Who Sit got to see Karina's genius up close and in action. Think Mad Scientist. Between quick charcoal strokes, Karina repeatedly stepped back and forth in front of a larger-than-life paper canvas. She seemed to be dancing to her own internal music as she drew, her hands constantly marking, smudging, erasing. As her eyes leapt from subject to paper and paper to subject, she seemed to be capturing more than physical features; she was eliciting each Sitting Woman's inner essence, our energía, miradas, moods. There was something electric about Karina as she worked. The words that kept running through my head as I watched her charcoal me into existence were Pulse, Pintura, Passion.

Charcoal Version of a 
Serious Me
Invoked Mama

"Art can arouse emotion," says Karina, "If a piece of art directs a person to create more, become excited, or dream, the work has done its job." The sketch that Karina did of me definitely aroused emotion. When I looked into it, it evoked my own layered reality; I saw a past version of my mother staring back at me through time and space.

Pau: Oil Paint on Panel
Aside from charcoal, there is plenty of color and shifting light in Puente's art. Like a quartz crystal in the sunlight, her work flickers. Reflections and movement are common motifs. It's not surprising that her favorite times of the day are The Golden Hour and 4:00 AM, or that she loves the rain and is inspired by water in all its forms. Even her oil paintings, like the one featured here, seem to embody an agua essence. "I’ve always looked to the ocean for answers," says Puente, "Once, in a dream, whales beached themselves to bring me slides of paintings in their baleen. That is something that stays with me when I paint."

One of the elements I find most alluring about Karina's paintings is  how subjects and shapes constantly shift and morph. Karina says about this, "Morphing in my work symbolizes transformation and touching the unseen; it grows with me and continuously reveals information about where I am in my life emotionally and intellectually." 

For fun and out of curiosity, I asked Karina to envision a collective art piece where she could work with a visual artist, a writer, and a musician of her choice, living or deceased. These were her choices:

Visual artist of choice:  
British-born-Mexican surrealist painter and novelist, Leonora Carrington, who depicts science, alchemy, and personal narrative in her work.  

Writer of choice:  
Bhanu Kapil, a visionary in her writing and in person.

Tori Amos because she is a musical genius who has persevered.  

What exactly would these four amazing artists be creating? Leonora Carrington and Karina would be painting a large-scale mural guided by Bhanu Kapil and painted to the music of Tori Amos.

My Watercolors.
Believe it or not, these are all
of the same view!
And because I am an enthusiastic neophyte in the visual arts (think Kindergarten--I have mastered stick figures and random blotches of color on the page), I could not help but ask Karina her professional opinion on the drawings I created in her watercolor classes last summer. Karina, be honest, is there any watercolor hope for me? There was a long, awkward silence, a few coughs to clear her throat, and then from the depths of her artistic humanity, Karina answered: 

"There is a vibrancy alive in your color choice and in the playful way you concentrate on mark-making. Something so valuable I see in you is that you shine after you make something. Often, people who haven't found their inner-structure bend at the site of their brush stokes and cower at their attempts. It takes real awareness to look at something you’ve painted –no matter what it is- and to be pleased. Good job!"

She is too kind. Thank you Karina for sharing a bit about yourself with La Bloga. To learn more about Karina Puente and to view more of her amazing work, visit:


  1. I very much enjoy seeing Karina's art. She somehow conveys through the eyes of her subjects a wistful longing. Perhaps also, I'll go so far as to say, a depth of past experiences that gives those eyes an empathy of clear knowing.

  2. Thanks Olga for bringing this touching artist to my attention. I appreciate your sharing it forward.

  3. Olga, beautiful interview, beautiful collaborative vision. I love the question you posed interweaving, art, music, writing...I think that kind of imaginative play is so amazing because it broadens our psychic landscape. Great way to start my Sunday.

  4. Thank you all for your comments. Paul, yes, you said that so well and so poetically. Karina definitely conveys through the eyes of her subjects a wistful longing and a depth of past experiences. Beautiful! Gracias Diana for your constant supportive comments and buena vibra. It's appreciated. And Tania! So happy to see/read you here. I had a lot of fun with this blog and I am constantly keeping in mind everything we reviewed in your class this past summer. Gracias!


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