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Karen Mullarkey, urban fusion artist to exhibit at Epicure Cafe

Karen Mullarkey paintings will appear in 'Panoplia' curated by the Bunnyman Bridge Collective at the Epicure Cafe, Fairfax, June 14, 2014
Karen Mullarkey paintings will appear in 'Panoplia' curated by the Bunnyman Bridge Collective at the Epicure Cafe, Fairfax, June 14, 2014Karen Mullarkey

Listening to Karen Mullarkey talk about her transformation from a being a “misfit Mom” to artist, she has things in common with many other artists who eventually let their artistic being develop from life that is otherwise a balance of family responsibility, and the struggle that many share as they address tradeoffs in the use of time and activities. Some creative people know from the outset that they are artists and are forever devoted to that quest. Others take time to discover their artistic leaning.

Karen Mullarkey, artist
Karen Mullarkey, artistKM, Facebook

I have known many artists who have had a traumatic experience such as the death of a loved one that seems to trigger artistic expression in greater intensity and energy. Art is a form of expression, and all experiences, positive and negative may become reflective in art forms.

A mother with child, an artist with death, life’s struggles, coping are all things encountered along one’s life cycle. Artists are equipped with special senses and yearning to acquire abilities to express themselves in all forms of artistic media.

Karen says, “Some artists are great at capturing reality. I aim to capture raw emotion and energy. Color and texture are simply the vehicles. I don’t want to paint ‘pretty’ pictures and leave it at that. Life is messy, downright brutal at times. However, if I can harness the fallout – chaos, trauma, emotional baggage, words either left unspoken or still lingering years later – and, through my art, turn it into something cathartic or healing for someone else, then I’ve done my job.”

Having grown up in Queens, NY, she chronicled her life in looseleaf journals and embraced writing and theater as expressive forms. The tragic loss of her mother following the birth of her daughter triggered her to start painting as she coped with grief.

She speaks about an upcoming show curated by Bunnyman Bridge Collective.

“‘Beyond the Veil’, included in the ‘Panoplia’ exhibit, features collaged copies of my personal journals, along with some from a journal my mother had penned while driving cross country in 1966. It also includes entries she’d written for her new grandchild a few months before her death. The process of painting that canvas was incredibly cathartic for me, as if things had come full circle.”

Karen described her experience from having joined a mothers’ group in suburbia. Her description reminded me of the movie Author’s Anonymous. It isn’t the plot, just the style of her description that reveals that she is as much a writer as an artist.

Excerpt from Karen Mullarkey description

“After awhile, I could only listen to so many dizzying conversations about potty training, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, napping, homemade organic baby food, delivery horror stories, bodily fluids, and allergies to everything but air. During one gathering, I realized that although I now knew much more than I wanted to about their children’s idiosyncrasies, I knew hardly any personal details about the women themselves. Who were they really? What had happened to their interests? When I tried to engage them in conversation about anything non kid-related, they’d glaze over. Sadly, it was the same expression I’d seen in the mirror too. Women often talk about losing themselves to motherhood. Having already lost my mother, I could not afford to lose myself by being pigeonholed in suburbia. And so, the Creative Revolution began.”

(Are you listening, Hollywood?)

“Around the same time, a friend and I signed up for private art lessons through a local gallery. The instructor, a mixed-media artist with very strong opinions about what was and wasn’t art, branded me ‘unteachable’ after I refused to conform to her hard-and-fast rules about composition. Her idea of sketching out a completed painting before even picking up a paintbrush seemed completely foreign to me, an intuitive artist. She was also offended by my choice to include affirmations as a base layer in my work. We parted ways sooner than expected.

In retrospect, that experience gave me the impetus to keep pushing the limits, in terms of my own artistic vision and ability. I turned a spare bedroom into a home studio, aka The Island of Misfit Moms. Creative alchemy reigned there, as I taught myself through experimentation, trial and error, and happy accidents. I was also fortunate to take classes from Traci Bautista, a California-based mixed-media artist and author who is a genius at repurposing everyday materials into art supplies. She, and other wildly creative women such as intuitive painter Connie Hozvicka and mixed-media artist Alisa Burke, inspired me to not only see magic in the ordinary, but to make my own magic from it. For me, working on a piece is a meditative practice. It’s a constant process of infusing, breaking apart, rearranging, and rebuilding. Like life.

One of the things I hear most from adults I teach or volunteer with is, “I’m not artistic.” Who told you that and, more importantly, why do you believe them? People are so wrapped up in their perceptions of how art “should” look that it paralyzes them before they can even start to create. No wonder so many people have a fear of the blank page or canvas. “Stop thinking so much,” I tell them. ‘Spill something on it and see where it takes you.’

Every night before bedtime, my younger daughter had wanted me to read her Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. It’s interesting how life works sometimes, because one quote deeply resonated with me: ‘Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. Once you are real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.’”

Karen Mullarkey Bio

“Karen Mullarkey is an urban fusion artist and art instructor at Reston Community Center and at Stifel & Capra in Falls Church. She served as a Coordinator of the GRACE Art program at Fox Mill Elementary through Greater Reston Arts Center for four years, and oversaw the Prayer Flag Project at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Herndon in 2013. Several of her mixed-media works were chosen for Panoplia, an exhibit at Epicure Café running through August 2. Her art has been featured in exhibits at several other local venues, including the Jo Ann Rose Gallery, Target Gallery at Torpedo Factory Arts Center, The Soundry, and The Electric Maid. Karen creates unique mixed-media accessories and crafts under the Area 718 label, a nod to her hometown of Queens, NY, and is a contributor to the Artisans Gallery Shop at ArtSpace in Herndon. She approaches art as cathartic storytelling, a bridge between raw emotion and the divine. Often incorporating elements of dyed fabric, metal, and repurposed everyday materials, her style combines urban art with mixed-media collage.”

The Artist

See her work at:

Epicure Café and The Bunnyman Bridge Collective Present New Collection of Bleeding Edge Contemporary Local Art
11104 Lee Hwy, Fairfax, VA 22030
“Panoplia”
June 14 - August 2
Opening Reception
Saturday, June 14, 7 p.m. – midnight