Contemporary Painter

Studio Blog Posts

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

Vulnerability and Strength


Life changes create new ideas and new work. I had a lot of life changes in 2018. These works reflect those changes. I decided to share the process I went through to develop this highly personal body of work.

These works will be exhibited at Susan Calloway Fine Art Gallery in Washington DC. The show opens May 4th.


Karen Silve, vulnerability and strength paintings



I faced many challenges in 2018 and went through a couple of life changes. The biggest was the separation of my long term boyfriend of almost 18 years. That impacted every aspect of my life. I felt like a failure and questioned if I had the strength to be single.

Also, I spent three months in France while finishing up an apartment. During this time, I struggled desperately with the language and felt pretty stupid most of the time. I’m sure I gained new wrinkles from my facial expression continuously exhibiting confusion.

Being immersed in a different culture in which I could barely communicate and being newly single brought a whole new meaning to the word solitude. Surprisingly, it actually feels a little claustrophobic. Feeling torn down to the core, I couldn’t wait for 2019.

The Mountains

The view from my apartment in France was inspiring. I looked at those mountains every morning and metaphorically they seemed to relate to my situation. I felt a weight in my gut every day because of the unknowns in my personal life, similarly to the weight you might feel before you go on a big hike up a mountain. You question: “Do I have enough water?”, “Do I have the right tools in case I get stung or have an accident?” And probably the biggest question is: “Do I have the strength to make it to the top?”

View from my apartment in Provence, France

View from my apartment in Provence, France


For those of you who have followed my work over the years, know that I start with an experience. Then I manipulate photos in photoshop to figure out how to express and develop the work.

With the mountains, I really felt like I had something solid to work with. Back in my Portland studio, I used the same tools mentioned above. However, nothing worked. It felt wrong. I hated everything. I could barely go into my studio. After months with nothing to show, I knew I had to make a change. But I didn’t know how.

The Self Portrait

In October, I hung a self-portrait from my late 20’s over my desk. I felt those 20 year old eyes staring in my soul. I remembered the challenges I was going through at the time I painted that self portrait. For whatever reason, I felt a strong desire to do a self portrait. And so I did.

Self portrait in my late 20’s, and one in my late 40’s.

Self portrait in my late 20’s, and one in my late 40’s.


Doing self portraits can be very painful. After all, there’s nothing between you and yourself. It’s like going to a therapy session in which you have to be very honest. This powerful process made me realize the mountains were simply a reflection of myself. I was vulnerable, and realized I needed to start the painting from a point of vulnerability. The first thing I did was take a bunch of nude photos of myself. Then I incorporated them into the mountain photos. All of the sudden I started to realize a new direction for this body of work. Here’s the first one.

Self Portrait Reflection,  58 x 46 in., 147 x 117 cm.

Self Portrait Reflection, 58 x 46 in., 147 x 117 cm.


Facing My Fears

I struggled desperately trying to figure out how to get the nude images of me with the French landscape in an honest and expressive way. I still had nothing to show my galleries and couldn’t face going into my studio daily, or even weekly.

One day I opened my email and saw this image of Tracy Emin sitting under one of her paintings: “What are you so fucking afraid of”. Wow! This image changed the way I walked into my studio. I realized fear was stopping me from painting. But what was I so afraid of? I didn’t know. I just knew I felt it.


Each day I had to enter my studio with the thought “no fear today”. I used mindful techniques to be present without fear, similarly to an experience in France in which I went up in a two seated airplane. Since I’m claustrophobic, it was a big deal. You can read about that experience here.

I needed privacy, like the way one may write pages in a journal that is never to be seen. I painted with the idea that nobody would see these paintings. This allowed me to be very honest without fear but very vulnerable.

Gaining Strength

Almost all of my bodies of works have been based on finding a positive experience and expressing that experience on canvas. They were “gift” like, and I had a lot to give.

Not these paintings. My hopper was empty and I had nothing to give. I needed to be given back to. I was surprised once I realized these paintings were giving back to me. I found strength in creating them. None the less, each day was difficult as it would be to go to a therapist everyday unveiling all of your fears one by one. The following painting was another turning point.


Here, I worked on multiple nude images of myself in the french landscape. At some point, I decided to put more of my skin tone colors in the landscape. Then finally covering up the landscape with a color that related to me; a strong, determined feminine color. This color gave me physical strength in painting it, as well as strength in the painting itself. I kept the vulnerability in the center. It made sense, and I was on a new path.


Vulnerable, 48 x 36 in, 122 x 91 cm, acrylic on canvas


The subject changed from the mountains, to the vulnerability of myself in the mountains, then finally my strength from my own vulnerability. I found this to be powerful, and true.

Here are a couple of other paintings that will be exhibited in my upcoming solo show.


My Reflection, 58 x 46 in, 147 x 117 cm, acrylic on canvas

Strength, 58 x 46 in, 147 x 117 cm, acrylic on canvas

Self Portrait, 68 x 58 in., 173 x 147 cm, acrylic on canvas

Thank you for reading! These works will be exhibited at my solo exhibition in Washington DC that opens May 4th at the Susan Calloway Fine Art Gallery in Georgetown. If you like my blog, please share using the buttons below.

Warmly, Karen


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