exhibitions

Below is a partial list of Jan Karlton’s gallery exhibitions, along with general statement excerpts from 1990 to 1995.

Branner Spangenberg Gallery Promotional Video, 2013 (4 min)

Moment of Communion – The Life and Art of Jan Karlton (25 min)

Interview at Branner Spangengberg Gallery in Palo Alto, early 1990s

biographical information

Born 1939, Santa Monica, California.
B.F.A. in Fashion Art, with honors. Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, 1961.
Shadyside Arts and Crafts Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1975-1977.
De Anza Community College, Cupertino, California, 1981-1983.

posthumous exhibitions
2017 A Life in Art
2016 Lovers and Other Strangers
2014 Fragile Shatter Pop
solo exhibitions
1975 Carnegie-Mellon University. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gouache, watercolor, acrylic, and mixed media.
1977 Carnegie Library, Shadyside. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gouache, watercolor, acrylic, and mixed media.
juried exhibitions
1982 Euphrat Gallery. Cupertino, California. Oil painting.
1983 De Anza College, California History Center. Cupertino, California. Gouache on paper, oil paintings.
Euphrat Gallery. Cupertino, California. Paintings.
State Capitol Building. Sacramento, California. Paintings.
1984 The Annual 38 Arts Festival. San Francisco, California. Oil painting.
invitational exhibitions
1974 Raven Art Gallery. Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. Gouache and mixed media on paper.
1975 Pittsburgh CO-OP Gallery. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gouache on paper.
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gouache on paper.
1983 De Anza College, Learning Center. Cupertino, California. Oil.
1986 Partners in Art Gallery. Cupertino, California. Oil.
1987 San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Valentine Invitational Exhibition. Monoprint and mixed media.
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Benefit Art Auction. Monoprint.
Euphrat Gallery. Cupertino, California. “Back In Touch” exhibition. Oil paintings and monoprints.
1988 San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Valentine Invitational Exhibition. Monoprint, mixed media and plexiglas construction.
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Benefit Art Auction. Gouache on paper.
Partners in Art. Cupertino, California. Woodcuts.
1989 San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Benefit Art Auction. Gouache on paper.
Euphrat Gallery. Cupertino, California. Mixed media and plexiglas construction.
1990 Palo Alto Unitarian Universalist Gallery. Palo Alto, California. Gouache paintings on paper and monoprints.
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Valentine Invitational Exhibition. Mixed media and wood.
Open Studios. San Jose Art League.
Palo Alto Unitarian Universalist Gallery. Palo Alto, California. Gouache paintings on paper, monoprints.
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Benefit Art Auction. Gouache on paper.
Branner-Spangenberg Gallery. Palo Alto, California. Mixed media, monoprints, mixed media/plexiglas constructions.
1991 Branner Spangenberg Gallery, Palo Alto, California.
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Valentine Invitational Exhibition. Wood and monoprint construction.
Ohlone College Resource Center Gallery. Women’s Caucus For Art Invitational. Gouache on paper. Panel member for “Art As A Career”.
Branner Spangenberg Gallery. Palo Alto, California. “Three Visions”
KTEH Invitational Benefit Auction
San Jose Art League. “Addressing Images”. Sculptured canvas.
Davis Art Center. Davis, California. “South Bay Artists”
Gordon Biersch. Palo Alto. “Errant Visions”
Gordon Biersch. San Jose. “Egregious Works”
1992 San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Valentine Invitational Exhibition. Construction.
Prieto Gallery. Oakland, California. “Telling Stories”. Book assemblage.
Bade’ Museum, Berkeley, California. “Spirit As Source”. Monoprint assemblage.
Seipp Gallery, Palo Alto, California. “Images, Visions and Voices”. Gouache paintings.
Olive Hyde Art Gallery. Fremont, California. Mixed media.
Euphrat Museum. Cupertino, California. “Treasures”. Paintings and prints.
KTEH Invitational Benefit Auction.
1994 San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, California. Valentine Invitational Exhibition. Acrylic and wood.
Santa Clara County Open Studios.
1995 ART F/X Gallery. Mountain View, California. Valentine Show.
ART F/X Gallery. Mountain View, California. “Random Acts of Color,” solo exhibit. Oil paintings.
Richard Sumner Gallery, Palo Alto, California. “Small Works of Northern California Artists”. Print collage.
related activities
1990 Program Committee, Women’s Caucus For Art, South Bay Area.
Organized “Art In Public Places”, Euphrat Gallery. Presentation by Jan Rindfliesch, Curator, to WCA membership.
1991 Assisted in organizing WCA Ohlone College show. Set up educational display on the history and making of prints from woodcuts.
Co-President, 1991-1992, South Bay Women’s Caucus for Art.
1992 One of primary planners and organizers of the 1992 Women’s Caucus For Art Northern California Regional Conference. Held at Mills College in Oakland, California, March 21, 1992.

Work by Jan Karlton is represented in private collections in the Western United States.

 

Exhibition Statements

Palo Alto Unitarian Church exhibit Jan 1990

My work has been called “grotesque,” and that is about as good a name as any.

I am intrigued by the power of the visual image. If the picture on the wall is hanging crookedly, someone will feel compelled to straighten it. When the image itself is disturbing, it is sometimes difficult to ignore. We need to make sense of it. In this way, a work of art can be the tip of a wedge, a catalyst for insight and change.

The possibility of change can be frightening. Belief systems are sacrosanct. Society apparently requires dogma on which to structure itself, and all such social and religious arrangements resist change.

I feel that my job, as an artist, is to present a different perspective on the usual and the accepted.

Making art includes working with paint and color and line, but these things are secondary to content. Art is like theatre or literature; it can compel thought and action. Dwelling solely on the process and technique of the artist is as spacious as concerning oneself about what brand of pencil was used by a specific writer.

The human situation is intensely fascinating, and it is almost always the subject of my work. It seems to me that human survival depends on how we define ourselves; Are we spiritual creatures trying to shake off our animal nature, or are we animals looking for spiritual cover?

Right now, dogs figure a good bit in my work. Man’s Best Friend might conceivably be our alter-ego.

There is funny stuff to be found, along with the passing strange, in the human condition. I try to show both of these qualities in the art that I do.

 

Branner show, Spring 1991

The work that I do is about people. My belief that the human situation is disturbing, silly, grotesque and appealing explains a lot about why my art looks and feels the way it does.

If someone, looking at one my art works, has an emotional or intellectual recognition of the content, that is terrific. Visual images can be compelling, creating, for the viewer, sudden insights and different perspectives. It is these elements that make art exciting for me. I like to shake things up, ask questions, dislodge the obdurate. This is serious stuff, but there is a lot of humor in what I see, and in the work that I produce.

The Dog Works are representations of the human inclination to follow a structured social model, inherited from a distant past. Presenting people as another kind of animal is useful, it seems to me, in seeing with clarity our own human condition. Leaders and followers, dreams, technology, theology, and social hierarchy are some of the issues explored by these pieces.

As in all my work, the titles are important.

 

1991 Gordon Biersch Palo Alto

Stone Cat with Bird Named Klee
Dog Talk
Woman Contemplating the Universe of MirĂ³
All Silence Comes from the Mountain
Moving Along
Simple Military Dog
Beautiful Song
Cow Disguised as a Billboard
Big Sound on San Fernando
Trees
Wounded Ones

ERRANT VISIONS

Paintings by Jan Karlton; Exhibition at Palo Alto Gordon Biersch

These are transitional works, in which I have used some old and some new imagery.

As is evident in several of the figurative paintings, I took a long look at the work of Paul Klee and Joan MirĂ³. I like these two artists because of their use of evolved organic shapes, and because their work is suffused with life.

The technical and creative problem I set up for myself, in many of the paintings, was to see how much I could simplify an image, and still make it evocative of human experience and perception.

I have been making and exhibiting art in the Bay area for several years. These paintings, done especially for Gordon Biersch, represent a kinder and gentler art, considerably removed from the strongly graphic and somewhat grotesque images I have done in the past. The interesting times in which we live guarantee that the disturbing images will return, perhaps tempered by this most recent work.

August, 1991

 

1991 General Statement

I make art which is sophisticated, childish, and a little bit bizarre. Individual pieces may vacillate between disturbing and silly, or grotesque and strangely appealing. Most of the art that I do is really about people. The fact that the human situation is disturbing, silly, grotesque, and appealing, with subtle variations and combinations all along the way, explains much about my work.

If there is one constant in how I work, it is my deep involvement in trying to “make the intangible tangible.” Paul Klee said that, and it is a good concept. If someone looks at one of my works of art and bonds emotionally or intellectually with the image, as if an inchoate emotion or half formed thought of the viewer has been suddenly made visible, that is terrific. It’s my job to create the sort of image which can make that recognition possible.

Giving the individual work a title is important to me.

The process of making art; getting the ink onto the paper, or the paint on the canvas; is also satisfying. Ink on paper has wonderful authority and intrinsic beauty. The luscious colors and the layering and textural qualities possible with gouache, or oil paints, makes using these mediums enjoyable. My attitude, however, is that process and technique are what I utilize to get to where I want to go, allowing for fortuitous accidents, and are not ends in themselves. I’m looking for a balance between technique and content.

Producing art is not, of course, just an intellectual exercise. My personal contributions would seem to be a basic distrust of the status quo, a weird sense of humor, and a perception of life that is about three degrees off center.

 

1992 KTEH auction

JAN KARLTON A GENERAL STATEMENT

I make art which looks sophisticated, childish, and a little bit bizarre. Individual pieces may vacillate between disturbing, silly, or grotesque. Most of the art that I do is really about people. The fact that the human situation is disturbing, silly, grotesque, with subtle variations and combinations all along the way, explains much about why my work looks the way it does.

Giving each work a title is important to me.

The process of making art; getting the ink onto the paper, or the paint on the canvas; is also satisfying. Ink on paper has authority and intrinsic beauty, and paint has unique qualities. My attitude, however, is that process and materials are what is utilized to get to where I want to go, and are not ends in themselves. I’m looking for a balance between technique and content.

My personal contribution to the work is a basic distrust of the status quo, a peculiar sense of humor, and a perception of life that is about three degrees off center.

SPECIFIC OBSERVATIONS ABOUT “KAFKA’S DOG”

I am an admirer of the work of Franz Kafka. He nailed the twentieth century. In the gouache “Kafka’s Dog”, I imagined how Kafka’s dog, if he had had a dog, would have looked; which turns out to be a lot like
Kafka.

In the painting, it is night. The dog is sitting on the grass in a park in Prague, with the city beyond the trees, and he looks directly at us. The dog is not the slightest bit neurotic, as Kafka certainly was, but what he sees is exactly the same as what Kafka saw.

How about that.

September, 1992. Written for 92 KTEH Art Auction.

 

Statement.93

My recent work uses the Abstract Expressionist past, specifically the idea of universal images as indicators of the continuum of life. The paintings, individually, are akin to the visually and intellectually actuated conundrum: “This sentence is in German when no one is looking”. When one of these paintings is held in view there is a visual arresting of the dynamic and relentless forces beneath the surface, which are sensed, but which remain just beyond our ability to see, resuming at the instant we look away.

The perhaps impossible dream, for me, is to present each piece of art that I do as artless. as something which has always been and which does not betray technical skills, one in which my hand and my experiences are not immediately perceived. I do not want to come between the viewer and the art. The interaction between these two is complex, beyond prediction, with painted image and individual perception endlessly engaged. This reciprocity will of course be different with each who views it, or with the different times the work is seen by the same person.

Using the square, the circle, and the triangle as Universal Images is based on my evaluation of the intent of Jackson Pollack, as influenced by Carl Jung. Utilizing these particular shapes was a conscious decision on my part as representative of our time, where hard science is acknowledged as supreme.

 

Statement for 1994 Open Studio

I like to make art which engages people on visceral and intellectual levels. An enjoyable and unique aspect of visual art is the power it can exert in engaging and stimulating thought. Making the intangible tangible is the goal. Creating something which sort of looks like something else is an effective way to get at the essential nature of the thing I am illustrating.

Jan Karlton

 

JAN KARLTON 1995 A GENERAL STATEMENT ABOUT MY WORK

Jackson Pollock’s painting “Number Twelve” made an indelible impression on me when I was a knobby-kneed ten-year-old in Funkstown, Maryland. Standing by the dirt road in front of our rural house, leafing through a copy of the “LIFE” magazine I had just retrieved from the mailbox, I was mesmerized by photos of paintings accompanying an article on Pollock. They had no resemblance to anything I had ever seen before, but I somehow recognized the chaotic dance of red and black paint on white canvas as beautiful, powerful, intensely visual and important.
I didn’t know or understand “art” or “painting”, but in some irrefutable manner, putting paint on canvas suddenly seemed an absolutely valid and totally absorbing activity.

Soon after this watershed experience, I reverted back to being a morose, skinny kid who could draw a little. Life was school and family. I was growing up in a place where Modern Art was spoken of, if at all, as a noxious weed. Real art meant the copy of “Pinkie” on the dining room wall, or meticulously rendered paintings of red barns. Painters who immersed themselves in Modern Art were deluded misfits or deviant con artists. If one was a young lady with an artistic side, one painted landscapes, portraits, or still-lifes. For a while, I dimly aspired to churning out lush oil paintings of Chinese porcelain vases stuffed full of lavender lilacs.

Years later, after studying advertising art at college and then working for some years as a fashion illustrator in New York City, I figured out that I was a painter.

Fashion illustration for newspaper advertising requires the use of free and beautiful graphic line. As a result, the use of black ink on white paper was often present in my early work as a contemporary artist, although I made a conscious effort to use line that conveyed power and impact, in place of effortless elegance.

Sometimes muted color was introduced to soften or support figurative images and non-objective shapes, but the integrity and authority of black paint on a neutral ground, or black ink on paper, was my usual choice of expression. The resulting work was often described as grotesque, funny, sophisticated, disturbing or a mix of all of these things.

When I first started to think of myself as an artist I could tell anyone who asked exactly what I meant to do, and why I meant to do it. As I then saw it, the creative process was purposeful and directly controlled. My views have changed. Now, if “work” is defined as “control”, I work as little as possible. It is still necessary to start somewhere and to know when to stop. The part between beginning and end is where I am an interested spectator, watching the emergence of image and line and color, and keeping those elements which feel correct.

I don’t know exactly what art is, but I am pretty sure that it is not created by the determined application of reason. When a piece is successful it is because it is larger than the sum of its parts, or any intention behind its creation. I am as amazed as anybody else when this happens.

May 1995 – Emerson

Jan Karlton

I have a continuing fascination with creating images of one thing which suggest something else. This use of allusion may or may not be at the core of twentieth century contemporary art, but it works for me.

Although I am now primarily painting in oils on large canvases, making print and paint collages is equally engrossing. The piece in this gallery, “Sacred Flame and Two Vessels,” is a light take on archaic art and ritual.

 

Russell Moore, in memorium August, 1995 (Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, California)

I knew Russell for a number of years, starting with his time at Allegra. He was always interested in seeing my work. I am sure that he extended this great courtesy and respect to many, many other artists.

He was unfailingly observant and thoughtful. We talked, among other things, about direction, medium, color, personal philosophies and the life experiences that fueled the admittedly bizarre decision to make art. Coming from a strong graphics background, it took me a long time to gear up and explore color. Russell liked color, I think! He missed it in my work. Nevertheless, I believe that he saw something good and promising in what I was doing.

I was sometimes prevented, for varying lengths of time, from working at all. Hidden damage from a childhood bout with polio was the culprit. We touched briefly on this the last time I saw him at Allegra. He asked me how this kind of obstacle had affected me, in ways other than not being consistently productive. I answered to the effect that being different from childhood had probably led me to art and had also made me stronger. I could sense that he understood. I knew, then, very little about his illness.

He looked frail that day at Allegra, but he was indomitable in a very clear and quiet way. As time passed and I heard more about his declining health, and worried as did many other people, always at the center of this concern was the inspiration of his grace under pressure. It sustained me oftener than I can say. If he could persevere in his work and his life, so could I.

I saw him occasionally after that, once at an Open Studio at my house, and then at Montalvo. I thought that he was going to be OK.

In 1992, I moved into a new and spacious home studio, the result of a major re-model. My dream of painting large, of exploring color and visual language and many things technical and creative, had finally arrived. I knew that it would be hard work, but was fully prepared to hole up for a year and thrash it out.

A lot of travel and then a long hiatus due to a particularly debilitating version of the old trouble, made this one-year plan extend over nearly three years. Periodically I would say to myself, “When I get a body of good new work, I will call Russell.” It was a terrible shock to see the notice in the newspaper of his death. Going to the memorial service and hearing that Russell had arranged for “his” artists to be there, was nearly overwhelming.

The last few months have been productive for me. I feel pretty good about the paintings I have done. It WAS hard work to get here. “Here” is a specious concept, of course. Work constantly evolves, life changes, we go on the best way we can. The chance to participate in what you love to do is the main thing. I am pretty sure that Russell, with the help of family and friends, did exactly that for as long as he possibly could.

Russell had a passion for art, and he was a good person. His friends and artists loved and respected him for those things, and we will remember.

Jan Karlton

 

Dear Wendy,

The following two thoughts were taken more or less from the above letter. They both are at the center of how I felt about Russell Moore’s support and his loss, both personally and to the art community. Please use whichever you please.

“Always at the center of concern about Russell’s health was the inspiration of his grace under pressure. It sustained me oftener than I can say. If he could persevere in his work and his life, so could I.”

“The chance to participate in what you love to do is the main thing. I am pretty sure that Russell, with the help of family and friends, did exactly that for as long as he possibly could.”

 

June 1995 Where I am now

In the early winter of 1992 I finally moved into a home studio, and it is where I work today. It is quiet and light. The dimensions are large enough to allow good-sized storage slots at the south end of the room for stretched canvases, work-in-progress and finished paintings.

Long before this studio was a reality, I had felt a strong pull to work large and to discover as much as I could about color and to allow and encourage a personal visual language.

When starting to make art in the early eighties, I felt most at home with graphics; i.e., black ink on white paper, black paint on a neutral ground. Dog-like creatures were often the subject, creating a blend of the comic and the grotesque. If there was color, it was muted and secondary to the images.

Exploring the use of color as a primary component on large canvases was now a possibility. I painted and re-painted canvases, severely limiting the use of black line. My work time was curtailed by extensive travel and then illness, but by the Fall of 1994 I completed Big Blue Hat. The colors were luminous; rich blue surrounded by gold and soft orange. The wax medium I had been using for many years now fully showed the luminosity which could be attained by layering color over color. This use of color felt right to me. The image of this big hat-shaped blue phallus, inscribed with scrawled messages of sexual awakenings and the gender-related totems of childhood is perhaps grotesque, but in a joyous and goofy sort of way, and color is a major and defining part of the whole. I felt, with this painting, that I had achieved some intuitive understanding of color, and how it might relate to emerging work.

In the winter of 1995, after another long trip, I got back to the studio. Regular Blue Dog, a small canvas done for a March exhibit at ART F/X Gallery, rendered in blue, warm orange and yellow, was the impetus for a resurgence of the dog image of earlier work. Yellow Dog Takes All, finished in May, is nine heads repeated across a large canvas, painted with bright reds, oranges, blue, lavender, green, and yellow. Luminous Grid, also done for the ART F/X exhibit, is a technically exacting study of the layering of analogous and opposing colors, enclosed within a grid and flashed around the perimeter with an intense, electric blue. From this last painting I determined that making a painting visually engaging, whether viewed close or from a distance, something which I had explored in earlier work, was going to continue as an important element in new work.

I recently started a series of paintings in which the intent is to more fully develop an intrinsic visual language, and for this reason, black paint, used calligraphically or as a supporting structure for drawing and color, has been re-introduced.

Making art about actual people and animals I know and places I have been are an unexpected twist in some of the latest pieces. Gus is a portrait of my sister Andy’s dog. Lally & Abet is the beach cottage where I stayed in the winter of 1995 while in the island village of El Nido, the Philippines. Beach at El Nido also comes from this trip.

The perspective of time has given me a clear overview of my evolving work. Writing these observations, at this juncture, has helped me to chronologically clarify and understand these changes.

Jan Karlton