Q&A with Karen Klee-Atlin

A conversation between Karen Klee-Atlin and Krista Schoening on the subject of Atlin’s current show, Spillway (March 4-27, 2021)

Spillway-15, Woodcut, 28 x 22 inches, 2021, $500 unframed

KS: These works take as their subject matter a spillway associated with a dam — in other words, a human intervention in the landscape. Was the evidence of human modification of the stones and the flow of water in this spot important in your decision to work with these images? Or was there something else about this location that called to you? 

KKA: I was interested initially because this area is special to me as it is very near our family cabin.  I have found imagery for my prints and paintings near there every summer. But I was also interested in seeing how the rock features have been exposed because of the controlled water flow – it’s as if the water has been peeled back.


KS: The rock faces in these prints have a scarred surface quality that could be seen as a material echo of the sculptural surface of the wood blocks used to make these prints. Does your approach to image making vary along with the material properties of the medium you are working with? If so, can you tell us a little bit about how the wood blocks themselves influence the way these images evolved. 

KKA: I used to use fairly rough pieces of plywood which had a pronounced grain and that made carving a curve or cutting across the grain a challenge.  I now use shina plywood which cuts quite well and doesn’t splinter if you have to cut a curve. That allows for more flowing lines than with the rougher plywood and I can include more tiny details and rippling lines.


KS: For these images you made a print with naturalistic colors and then several variations with invented colors. How did you come to decide upon these colors? Was it important to make the first print naturalistic? How does that first print relate to experimental colors of the subsequent prints? 

KKA: The naturalistic prints arose from the normal printing tradition of working from light to dark in inks – so the order of areas to be cut (the lightest first, second lightest second, etc.) is determined by the order of those colors in the naturalistic version.  The experimental colors have to follow the order of what areas have already been cut but don’t necessarily follow the light to dark path.  The six experimental sisters of the naturalistic version follow their own individual paths sometimes printing light colors over dark and playing with hue.

Spillway-20, Woodcut, 28 x 22 inches, 2021, $500 unframed

KS: Some of these works are layered, or are printed in highly inventive colors, obscuring the subject matter – for example the Spillway Second Pass works. Can you tell us more about these? 

KKA: The Spillway – Second Pass pieces arose from running each plate, after it was printed, on to another sheet of paper to create a ghost print.  A second ghost print from a different plate is then layered onto the first, etc. until an accretion of five or more layers are collected on a single sheet.  The colors are arranged by chance and there are seven of these ghost prints in total.  While not literally a variation of the original imagery, they connect with the Spillway series because of their colors they have in common and the ghostly appearance of some of the more prominent shapes evident in the first pass printings.


KS: You have a number of small paintings of diminutive buildings in the landscape. These works give me a feeling of simultaneous cheerfulness and fragility. The smallness of the buildings calls into question their ability to act as refuge, yet the colors used in these works give them a lively feeling. Are these spaces real or imaginary? What is it about these small structures that draws you? 

KKA: These little paintings are musings that I am exploring of a collection of ice-fishing huts we found beached on the shore. They rest high on the beach for almost eight months of the year and are then dragged out on the ice on the skids they are built on.  While tiny, they promise protection from the weather and heat from their wood stoves.  I was particularly struck by how, even though only seasonally in use, many were quite homey in appearance.  There are frilly curtains in the windows and the owners have hung signs of welcome. They are indeed cheerful and although cramped and work-a-day, so inviting to me.