We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen Woodward Sarrow and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen Woodward, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born in England and grew up in the Midwest. My father was an explorer and charismatic, my mother was shy and loved people. They both understood the importance of community and family and modeled that for me. I have two older brothers who were in high school when I was a kid. Family always encouraged me to make art, and so did friends in our small community. There were few art teachers where I grew up, I learned to sew, and I studied art through the mail with Minneapolis Art Instruction Schools. Art lessons were a major expense for my family. Today, I still work with people who believe that investing in education is important. My undergraduate art professors were not interested in the abstract and political work I wanted to do, so I took classes with philosophers and historians at Truman State. They were young men and women from other places and religions and had humanistic ideas. When I graduated from Truman in 1991 there were few jobs available, so I continued my education to study art history at The Ohio State University. I took a surrealism class with projects which prompted my art history advisor to tell me I should be in the studio art department! I continued studying both. After graduation, I worked in the Columbus public libraries and created stained glass windows. Working in libraries helped me realize that almost anything could be answered through research. While working in Emory’s Art History image library in Atlanta, I saw thousands of pictures of art from all over the world. This prompted me to curate an art show called “Sources” with basic natural shapes found in everything from architecture to painting. I was a member at Blue Milk Magazine art collective at the time and made natural forms in paint, ceramics and installations. Emory was the first time I’d been around many female art faculty, and I benefitted from their teachings in ceramics and sculptural methods. The natural forms series was the reason I was admitted to Pratt Institute MFA program in the Fall of 2001. My goal was to teach art and return to Atlanta. Along the journey, 9-11 happened, my personal circumstances changed, yet I had many exciting art opportunities at Pratt. Dr. My advisor Gillian Jagger was showing in the city and graduate students were her assistants. I briefly met John Curran and Maya Lin in their studios, and professors took relatable students to the studio of Nancy Spero and Leon Gotlieb. I wrote press releases for a SoHo art gallery, hosted VIP Artists visiting Pratt, and became President of the active art league. I keep in touch with and value my mentors Donna Moran and Gerald Hayes. Dr. Peri Klemm is a friend from Emory, and art historian at CSUN and the reason I met Jonathan Sarrow in 2002. After graduation I joined Jonathan in Santa Monica. We married and settled in West L.A.; our first son was born in 2005. Finding the art world in L.A. took time. I remember being at a big art party with a hot painter, and few were talking to new people, or looking at the art. I remember standing in line with the sun blazing with an art teacher from Northridge for an “Open L.A. Art” that hung artwork 30 feet high inside an airplane hangar. Relationships I had in New York had allowed me to show my artwork there while we were raising our two boys. When our second child was born in 2008, we moved to the Valley. In 2012, I created a small sign painting and mural business. We Rock The Spectrum founder Dina Kimmel was a major client, along with realtors, and small business owners. In 2015 we moved and lived in New Jersey for a few years where I reconnected with New York friends and made new ones, frequently collaborating with screenwriter and actress Stacey Van Gorder. I also did a So Cal commission for good friend and CSUN Librarian Lynn Lampert, a year before we moved back to L.A. in 2016. Late in 2017 I applied to and joined TAG Gallery 40-member artist collective after our family members Jill and Andrew Morrison told me about it. The Morrisons are friends with TAG artist Katie Crown, and we will show together at another venue in 2022. The stability of TAG’s long-standing art collective allowed me to exhibit, curate and model my parents’ community-centered mindset. Artist Tom Wheeler and I showed at TAG in January, and then TAG Gallery moved from Santa Monica to Mid-Wilshire Blvd in late 2017. As Admissions Chair and with manager Rakeem Cunningham, our team recruited new members from many backgrounds and religions. As President in 2018 I listened to members who wanted to reach out to local institutions, especially Joan Horsfall Young and former member Carol Garland, and encouraged establishing relationships with local businesses and charities. The diversity of our members, the quality of the artwork, new relationships and curated exhibitions more than doubled our gallery income in 2018. In 2018 I started artHYPE to promote artists from all backgrounds and in different mediums on a YouTube channel. artHYPE YouTube includes an interview at 825 Gallery of the culturally important and inventive exhibition of K Ryan Henisey. Conceptual artist Prima Jalichandra-Sakuntabhai is artHYPE art editor, and we interviewed Prima about the DAPL protest. Exhibitions promoting artists was a fun new addition to artHYPE in 2019. Last year we curated three solo shows by diverse, incredible women artists in the TAG Loft: Genesis Be from Atlanta, Sarah Svetlana from Pasadena, and Debbie Y.J. Lin from Canada. In June, Jonathan and I opened the artHYPE gallery-studio in North Hollywood. artHYPE is now showing the impasto figurative expressionist Michael MP Griffin through December 20th. We are so excited to be building community around art in North Hollywood, and we invite you to visit us soon to see well-curated, museum quality artwork — and talk about it.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a visual artist, an award-winning painter, a stained-glass artisan represented in private homes in Ohio and Atlanta, an exhibited ceramicist, and prolific graphic designer. I manage SHE IS HOPE LA’s marketing at sheishopela.org, a charity to uplift single mother families.. In 2016 we moved to New Jersey and I decided to focus on one style and subject for paintings. I started making pop-style paintings of people showing affection. After a few years, people began to see the pop style as commercially relevant, good for ads and IG. I still like the flat, pop style portraits, but at the beginning of Covid-19 I decided to paint realism again. Realism is another art world, with many accomplished fine artists and catalogs, yet there are few realist galleries that show women. Realism is having a resurgence and more attention because of breakthrough artists like Kehinde Wilde. I’m devoted to keeping Styrofoam out of our oceans and landfills by upcycling Styrofoam through painting, lightworks, and 3-D installations. I get excited when other artists decide to use upcycled Styrofoam in their work and will share the work on FB @styroartla. Last year, ASG gallerist Sibyl Walton visited TAG because she knows Jaime Coffey Bateman and saw my first led + upcycled Styrofoam light work Soft Pink. ASG gallery invited me to apply for the group show 360° of Healing where I showed upcycled Styrofoam art for the first time. In March, my first large upcycled Styrofoam painting sold at TAG. This month I am showing both realist paintings and abstract upcycled Styrofoam paintings at TAG’s Small Works Member Show. Multimedia artist Debbie Y.J. Lin and I are planning the exhibition hyperSOFT to open at artHYPE in August 2021. And if you are interested in sending sustainable gifts this year, Imagi.Life is our sustainable gift shop on-line. We make every paper package beautiful.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
We live in the Valley where we feel lucky to hike the canyons with friends and look forward to eating at Casa Vega again. We recommend a walk around the North Hollywood Reservoir to see the Hollywood sign. From Calabasas, past Mulholland, you can find a breathtaking drive from Tuna Canyon Rd to Malibu and the Pacific. I love the Santa Monica vibe and ocean air. Most restaurants in Santa Monica are great, and we frequently join friends for a drink and a show at the Westside Comedy Club. Our family has always enjoyed the fun of the Pier, and there’s a So Cal bike ride to Venice Beach, or a quiet spot up north on Will Rogers beach. A traditional trip downtown for us includes Almeda St and sandwiches at Phillipe’s, the old train station is so beautiful. Our friends introduced us to the downtown rooftop restaurant Perch. Lunch at either one of the Getty art museums is great, and we want to go back and have a special dinner at The Napa Valley Grill near UCLA, which we enjoyed before a great event at the Hammer Museum last year. We never miss an art fair in L.A.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I feel so much gratitude to the people in my life who have supported art. I owe every small or large success I’ve ever had to the strength of relationships built with others, and the content of my work. My husband Jonathan supports my artistic vision and he helps maintain the new Gallery and studio in North Hollywood. My best friend Tisha Janigian is like a sister, and we substantially help support each other’s careers. Graduate school relationships became very important when I left a good position at LACMA and lecturing in art history at SDSU to take care of our son. We had a very collaborative class at Pratt; we’d let each other know about relevant exhibitions and friends organized shows. Joe Levickus, Lori Kirkbride, and Melissa Steiger are three artists I checked in with frequently when I was a new mother. They helped me and many more artists show in New York and Michigan, and still do. I showed sporadically in L.A. during those years, my mother-in-law Roberta Fay Hyman and her husband Jay and I collaborated for a pop-up show in Orange County, and their garage was my studio for a few months. artHYPE represents Roberta’s amazing new abstract paintings. Our good friends Stuart and Nicole Waldman have always been supportive of my studio, and through them I met David Phelps at Stuart’s birthday party when he was President of Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce. David saw my painting of the San Fernando Valley and then introduced me to the incredible leaders of the #LetsPaintShermanOaks Sherman Oaks Chamber Foundation, Fran Kerzner of Design Synthesis, and Whitney Rosenberg, of Art Dimensions. We collaborated on a wonderful fundraising exhibition for utility box artists in 2019. I just painted a copy of that SFV painting on a utility box at Moorpark & Fulton. Through TAG, I met Meg Wolman who works with the Greater Mid-Wilshire Chamber of Commerce and she is an incredible event coordinator and connector who supports small businesses, like artHYPE and our Sarrow Studio Face Masks, along with the Chamber’s museums and big businesses. My closest family, my brothers Mark and Clive Woodward, and their wives Kathleen and Kim Woodward, have always supported me as an artist, as did my parents. Nothing replaces the strength of a base of support like that. I’m so thankful to friends Brooke Catalfalmo, Beth Millman, Nicole Schubert, John Waiblinger and Robin Rezende, who come out to almost every exhibition. Thanks again everyone! I’m so thankful to be building community and art relationships with you in L.A. Have a safe, wonderful Holiday Season.
Other: www.arthype.net IG @arthypenow imagi.life IG @imagi_life
Tisha Janigian, Odette Leonelli, Linda Kasian Photography