Contemporary Painter

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Studio Blog which includes news, paintings in progress, personal statements, and any other updates about Karen Silve.

Substance of Nature

My day on September 3, 2019


Wow, what a day! I started with a morning kayaking trip, then the afternoon took my breath away after seeing “Fabienne Verdier - Sur Les Terres de Cézanne” exhibition at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence. Her spirit captured me. Sometimes everything in the day just falls into place, one action after another giving a sense of purpose.

The Power of Nature

I started the day on a kayak adventure in Cassis. In my little solo kayak, I rode into some of the deepest crevices and witnessed the power of nature. My mind questioned how this existed… wonder, evolution at it’s greatest. It was kind of like being in a Jerasic park movie, in which you turned a corner and didn’t really know what to expect. The cliffs were extraordinary. Watching the movement of the water eroding away the sediments became a rhythm of nature, something bigger than the whole of a person’s existence.

These photos were taken while entering Calanque D’En-Vau in Marseille on my Cassis kayak trip. This private beach to kayakers and rock climbers was one of the coves we went into. Looking back from the second photo, you can see the cliffs we kayaked around.
Photo swiped from the internet by Zied Boussif of  Calanque D’En-Vau  in Marseille.

Photo swiped from the internet by Zied Boussif of Calanque D’En-Vau in Marseille.


After a morning of rigor and contemplation, I drove to Aix-en-Provence to see an art exhibition of one of France’s leading woman artist’s, Fabianne Verdier. I was so excited to go but didn’t know what to expect. I had only seen Verdier’s works online and knew they were Chinese influenced. But this exhibition was based on her going back to Aix-en-Provence, a previous home for her, and focusing on the power of Mont Sainte-Victoire. This intrigued me since I studied at the Leo Marchutz School in Aix-en-Provence, and probably painted Mont Sainte-Victoire 50 times during my studies there.


Karen Silve, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1992

Karen Silve, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1992

One of my paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire during my studies at the Leo Marchutz School in Aix-en-Provence in 1992.


Finding the Power in Painting

Photo: Philippe Chancel from Musée Granet website - Febienne Verdier sur le motif - Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 2018

Photo: Philippe Chancel from Musée Granet website - Febienne Verdier sur le motif - Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 2018


My experience viewing Verdier’s exhibition was much intensified because of my kayak experience earlier in the day. Verdier used the power of nature in her painting. It was honest, expressive, and thoughtful. An internal dialog within her paintings existed by the composition of the almost nurtured background with the expressive brushwork in the foreground, offering a moment in time that existed; something that couldn’t be changed. History and spontaneity were prevalent.

Fabienne Verdier,  Peinture de 27 Décembre 2007. Hommage posthume au Maître Huang , 183 x 366 cm.

Fabienne Verdier, Peinture de 27 Décembre 2007. Hommage posthume au Maître Huang, 183 x 366 cm.


Upon more reading about Verdier, I found it fascinating how she developed maps of the flow of energy with lines by focusing on sound and rhythm. She studied in many places, but seemed to be most influenced early in her career after studying in China with Huang Yuan. Here is when she changed her traditional style of painting on an easel to painting on the ground allowing gravity to be a part of her “line”. She was influenced by different Chinese cultures and the chanting and songs that was a part of their culture. She had a desire to find an honesty that existed. She focused on finding a new reality of how rhythm from within translates to line and a new language.

Fabienne Verdier,  Yuan : Retour aux sources vives , 2009, 183 x 567 cm

Fabienne Verdier, Yuan : Retour aux sources vives, 2009, 183 x 567 cm


This was the beginning of her new language in which music, harmony, and sound became a part of her painting. During all of her experiments, she became to realize the power that lies in a “single stroke of the brush” and ultimately, after returning back to France, developed one large monumental bush with pulleys to work the brush. This was made with more than twenty horsetails and could contain nearly 30 liters of ink or paint.

Photograph by Philippe Chancel from website Jeanne BucherJaeger gallery

Photograph by Philippe Chancel from website Jeanne BucherJaeger gallery


The exhibition consisted of works throughout her career. Many pieces were developed after her Music Experience, which started in New York, and continued in France. She worked with composers and musicians to understand the flow that is related to music as it pertains to line. She made many drawings before painting with the large brush to make sure she was in sync with the sound. She found a truth to the rhythm and sound.


Fabienne Verdier, Suite Provençal I - en hommage à Darius Milhaud, 2015, 180 x 272 cm

Fabienne Verdier, Ligne de crête, 2005


This part of the exhibition spoke to me because I also worked for years on translating sounds into color and line. I’ve included a couple of my older paintings below.


Early in my career, I found inspiration from musicians and how they moved with their instrument to create sound. Then, my focus went directly to the sound and how color and the energy of line created a similar sensation. My work became more abstract.

I started with just the cellist before moving on to pure abstraction of the sound of a symphony. The triptych painting below, “Composition” was painted in 2004

Karen Silve, Composition, 2004

In the following painting titled “Symphony III”, I focused on the violent and blissfull sounds of a symphony.
Karen Silve, Symphony, 2004

Karen Silve, Symphony, 2004



In A Breath - it was told

What I found so amazing is how she incorporated modeled backgrounds which had a feeling of foundation, tradition and thoughtfulness. This was the backdrop for her expressive lines. She built these diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs before she painted on them. Once the background was finished, she could walk on them. The understanding of the surface she walked on that took weeks, or even months to prepare, must have given a sense of knowledge of what came before; an understanding of history. I can only imagine the contemplation and meditation she went through while walking on the finished background and how she must have felt when she arrived to the point of allowance to put her line down. And then finally, being present, in a breath it was done.


Fabienne Verdier, Margareta I. La Pensée labyrinthique, after the Portrait de Margareta by Jan Van Eyck (1439), 2011, 180 x 403 cm.

Fabienne Verdier, Saint Christophe traversant les eaux II, after the Triptyque Moreel by Hans Memling (1484), 2011, 244 x 271 cm

Fabienne Verdier, Paysage de l’Oberland `` la tombée du jour I, II et III, 2008. Right and left: 201 x 160 cm, center: 240 x 180 cm.


I’ve been influenced by the abstract expressionists in my career and was amazed how Verdier captured the freshness like the abstract expressionists, but kept a sense of tradition or history with the modeled backgrounds. The dialog of opposition such as contemporary and traditional or East and West was previlant. The division of the canvases added another dialog of multiple parts of a whole. There is a story to be told.


Spirit of the Mountain

The finally, sur les terres de Cézanne


The last two rooms in the exhibition were dedicated to the Spirit of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Before I came to the exhibition, I couldn’t figure out how she could capture the spirit of the mountain without color. It didn’t seem possible to me because my work is all about color. But after walking through the exhibition, I started to understand the power of the line that she worked so hard to express. The entire exhibition lead up to the last two rooms, and there they were, black lines identifying the spirit of the mountain.


Fabienne Verdier, La Brèche des Moines vue depuis Saint-Antonin, 2018, 178 x 355 cm.


She set up her large brush in five places in the outdoors around the mountain. Many of these places I had been close by and know that rocky terrain. I couldn’t believe how Verdier captured the spirit. I felt it. Not only because I studied that mountain as a young artist, but also because of my experience earlier in the day. Contemplating while kayaking in the swells around the cliffs and watching the violent and peaceful inter-plays of the elements, I felt the “power” of nature. The color was secondary. Her work gave me a new understanding, A new language that she developed that I understood intimately.


Fabienne Verdier, Montagne Sainte-Victoire depuis le plateau de Bibémus, 2018, 178 x 355 cm

It was a very satisfying day. If you are in Provence, I encourage you to go to the exhibition. It goes through the 13th of October at the Musée Granet.

Thanks for reading! Please realize this is my opinion of the exhibition and how I reacted to it.

Very warmly,

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