In the late 1970's, I was studying a sample of earth in a petrie dish under a microscope while taking a geology class at UCLA. It dawned on me that I love the substance of the earth. And that art is the only vocation which allows me to intertwine and fully express my deepest intuitions and ideas about all that is meaningful to the human experience on planet earth. Philosophy, spirituality, conceptual thinking, light, gestural movement, words and sound: I realized that I needed to combine all these elements with the substance of the earth itself for my artistic expression.
When I established my first studio I set out to discover a personal language and way of working. I methodically painted away all the nonessential elements in a wet painting in progress. I was surprised to find that I had eliminated every painted detail and was left with a pale brown color on my canvas. To my mind the painting called for one more element for resolution: I grabbed the biggest handful of mulch I could carry from the nearby potting shed and threw it onto the wet painting. This action was the birth of my keen awareness that substance and gesture are my primary tools of expression.
Karen Nielsen Licher works directly with the earth. She explores the deserts, mountain and coastal regions of the American West, creating art which fosters a direct communion with the natural elements of those places. It is out in the West’s wild and free expanses that she finds the inspiration and the actual physical grist for her art-making practice. A close viewing of one of the paintings in her Gestures of the Earth series reveals a rugged terrain of earthen pigments and sandy deposits, collected by the artist from her travels throughout the western United States. She is currently working in California’s Eastern Sierras, one of the most geologically young and tectonically active areas in North America.Licher’s recent exhibition, The Voice of the Earth, (at Cerro Coso’s Community College LLC Art Gallery) featured several suspended bushes with exposed roots, fabricated metal stands, words rusted onto metal plates, and a quarter of a ton of volcanic ash spread on the gallery floor. The latest incarnation of the artist’s COMMON GROUND series of installations, this exhibition presented yet another chapter in her ongoing conversation about our journey as mortal humans, experienceing of the duality of life on planet Earth. A sonic environment was created in the gallery space to enhance the visitor’s experience of the visual objects presented.. Karen and Bruce Licher’s musical ensemble, SR2, performed a live set of original avant-rock compositions in the gallery during a special reception.After earning a BA in painting, photography, sculpture and printmaking at UCLA in the early 80’s, she established her own studio practice in downtown Los Angeles. She explored minimalism, abstraction and gestural expressionism, aiming to find her own personal voice within these modalities as an expression of her perspective on our human resonance with the natural landscape. She realized that the corporeal presence of earth in her paintings, drawings and installations was a crucial element of her vocabulary, imparting a powerful conceptual and energetic dimension to her art.
In the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, Karen Nielsen Licher co-founded and co-directed two underground galleries in the Los Angeles area, the Civilian Light Gallery in West LA, and The Hallway Gallery in downtown LA, She curated the Collaborations with Nature exhibition at Merging One Gallery in Santa Monica, and in addition, sponsored and co-created several Earthwork Projects with selected groups of Los Angeles-based artists in the Mojave Desert. These projects were documented in letterpress limited edition prints produced by Independent Project Press. These earthworks provided the participating artists an empowering experience of interaction with the earth, as well as a means to resource funding for Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy.In 1995, The Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Sedona Art in Public Places Program sponsored The Lunar Power of the Waters, a solo exhibition of Licher’s sculpture, paintings and installations, presenting works incorporating found objects from a recent devastating flood in the area.. Also while residing in Sedona, Licher co-founded and co-directed the New Territory Artspace. underground art gallery. Licher continued to develop her own personal language of gestural abstraction and metaphorical installation, incorporating earth and natural found and fabricated objects directly into her art. It was here in Sedona that she initiated her continuing series of exhibitions entitled COMMON GROUND: The Space Between Contrasting Viewpoints, its first incarnation presenting earth on canvas mats on the floor of The Select Art Gallery, and then soon after, presenting over a ton of variously colored earths laid out in long tracts in an expanded version in the roofless installation the Cathedral Room of Phoenix Arizona’s Ice House.
Karen and her husband, artist and musician Bruce Licher, currently co-curate and direct THE PROJECT ROOM at Independent Project Press, an art gallery adjacent to and within an operating letterpress print studio, located in the high and dry desert sagebrush plains of the Owens Valley along the eastern edge of California. The gallery showcases the diverse creative talents of the Eastern Sierras exploring the 21st century experience of living in the American West.