Artist Spotlight: Karlene McConnell April 08 2020

Karlene McConnell

Karlene McConnell was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts but has spent the majority of her life as a Floridian. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Education from the University of Central Florida, she worked as a Special Education Art Teacher for several years and then as Curator/Educator for the Ormond Memorial Art Museum in Ormond Beach, FL. Currently, she paints full time in her studio in Ormond Beach. McConnell is known for her abstracted landscapes that play on the allusion of three-dimensional space.

Has your art practice and subject matter changed over time?

Yes. As a student, I created realistic pencil drawings of people. I was especially fond of drawing human features like hands and eyes. 

Early in my career, I also worked as a watercolorist. I continued depicting the human figure with watercolors, creating portraits and scenes with people on the beach. Around this time I also began to paint landscapes, with an emphasis on river scenes. Then, about 15 years ago, I reacquainted myself with Abstract Expressionists like Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Richard Diebenkorn. I was inspired by their work and my own work became more abstract as a result.

What artists and/or art movements have influenced your art practice?

In addition to the Abstract Expressionists previously mentioned, I draw color inspiration from Bonnard, Matisse and the rest of the Fauves. The landscape painter in me also loves the work of George Inness, John Henry Twachtman and Wolf Kahn. 

How has living in Florida influenced your work?

Living in Florida since I was 15 years old and spending time on the Tomoka River has greatly influenced my art and my appreciation of nature. Hiking and kayaking have provided real-life references for me. Through my paintings, I seek to share both the representation of the landscape as well as the experience of the landscape with my viewers.

Would you elaborate on two paintings currently on view at the gallery and on our website,  

In the piece titled That One Day, I present a hiking path surrounded by color fields. I enjoy creating paintings that combine a tonal landscape along with flat planes of color.  In contrast, On a Daisy Blanket deviates from my more traditional landscapes because it includes a piece of the interior world. I’m intrigued with placing household objects such as blankets, cushions or chairs in my paintings to imply the presence of humans.


Left: That One Dayacrylic and stabilo crayon, 48 x 48 inches
Right:On a Daisy Blanketacrylic and stabilo crayon, 36 x 24 inches

How has your time as an educator and curator influenced your work?

I have been fortunate to spend time as an art educator and museum curator at different points in my career.  As an educator, I was constantly challenged to present art to others in fun and interesting ways. As I taught creative exercises and activities to my students, I also looked for ways I could incorporate these lessons into my own art practice, and explore subjects more creatively.  As a curator, I was privileged to hear artists explain their work first hand and learn from their varied experiences. Exhibitions changed every two months, so I was regularly exposed to a range of styles and processes, which proved to be an invaluable learning experience. 

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Immerse yourself, go to museums and galleries and listen to artist talks. I suggest this, not for the purpose of copying others, but to realize that the possibilities in art are limitless. Also, create art with children as I did for many years. Their imagination and creativity is raw and uninhibited.

What are you working on now?

Recently, I have returned to working on paper. Perhaps, I’m reaching back to my younger days or simply responding to these chaotic times. In any case, these pieces will be used to inform larger canvases for my new series titled River Tapestries, which will be presented in a solo exhibition at Arts on Douglas in October. For this body of work, I seek to explore ideas about the landscape as a woven tapestry of colors and textures. I am also continuing to explore my life on the river through this work. These pieces are grounding me and bringing me back home by serving as a reminder that I can find inspiration even in my own backyard.



Left: Lake, acrylic and oil pastel, 24 x 18 inches
Right: Tomoka Canal, acrylic and oil pastel, 24 x 18 inches

To browse available artwork from Arts on Douglas, CLICK HERE