Artist uses brush to swirl a surreal life

by Lee Adams

Karen Bjork Dischell grew up playing in the woods with her dog at her home on Singletary Lake in Sutton Massachusetts. Always striving to define herself, she carried her sketchpad with her on her woodland quests, drawing and writing poetry in the solitude under a canopy of leaves.

When not in the woods, she and her two sisters spent time making paper dolls while her brother drew pictures of terrible monsters with swords. She always wanted to make dolls that were better than her sister Beth’s.

Now as adults, Dischell’s siblings have all become artists in some form. Her sister Beth makes bas-relief sculptures; her sister Jane paints portraits of horses and her brother is a skilled carpenter who excels in cabinet making.

Dischell has found her own identity, the niche that sets her apart from the rest of her talented family. Her Lyndon Street studio is filled with large canvases of surrealism swirling with complementary colors and textures.

She doesn’t intend to be surreal, Dischell says, but through poetry, her love for gardening, and thoughts from her imagination she creates fantasy worlds on canvas about which each viewer can draw his own conclusion. For Dischell the works may represent themes in her life or ideas she holds dear, but she doesn’t set out with the intent of imposing those ideas upon her viewers.

‘“My goal is to explore, through the use of opaque and transparent surfaces, the layers of the self that both reveal and conceal, to consider that which we carry within our heart, soul and pockets and to examine those objects we display and those we purposefully hide,’” she says.

The physical paint on the surface of her works also reveals and conceals, such as in her paintings ‘“Circus One’” and ‘“Circus Two’” in which she layers the paint thickly in some places and scrapes it off in others to reveal the delicate canvas beneath. The paintings look bold and daring while also appearing old and frail as if just recently discovered in some forgotten attic. This boldness allows the viewer to see those things in which they might seize before life passes him by, while the frailty reveals the things the heart tries to hide. While the painting itself is of an abstract circus theme, Dischell’s desire is for the viewer to explore the boldness and frailty of his own life and how the images on the painted surface might relate to himself rather than to simply depict a picture of a carnival.

In another painting, ‘“Wolf Park,’” a couple appears to embrace on a park bench in a wooded space. The hues are dark browns, greens, blacks and blues and in the formation of tall trees and long branches a wolf appears to hover over the unknown couple below. The tones haunt. Is the wolf waiting to attack and possibly devour the couple, or is she perhaps guarding them in this dark forest as a mother who protects her pups? It is for the viewer to decide.

‘“I think paintings are windows,’” she says. Dischell spent many childhood days looking out her windows at home and sees her paintings as windows to the soul ‘— windows that may reveal the past, or a hope for the future.

In her painting ‘“Bright Size Life,’” which she named after the 1970s jazz tune by Pat Metheny, Dischell depicts a utopia in which the characters in the painting play in a world of lush green foliage and deep blue waters. Three children wearing brightly colored clothes join hands in the upper-left portion of the canvas in a style resembling that of Romare Bearden. Below that two other children dive deep into what appears to be a millpond dammed by large rocks or, perhaps, fruits that are scattered about abundantly.

Another group of Eden-dwellers recline by a stream in the lower right corner while three kids play double-dutch jump rope with two flaming cords. The rope-jumping image is meant to be fun, inspiring and freeing, not frightening. The scene comes from the A. Van Jordan poem ‘“Ropes,’” in which he describes his daughter swiftly skipping two rapid-turning ropes that swirl around her body in a blur, the motion happening so fast that she seems ablaze.

The paintings have a tapestry effect with similar hues and shades meandering about the canvas. No single color distracts the viewer’s attention but through study intense colors seem to come through. This is Dischell’s intent, and it draws the viewer into a deep discussion with the painting ‘— exploring and thinking ‘— and in turn a deep discussion within one’s own self.

Success for Dischell is in forming a passage for the eyes within her paintings, changing the mood and feelings of each viewer as they explore. For her, there is a reason and a thought process behind each stroke, but there is a different version of the story to be told to each who reads one of her paintings.

When she first moved into her current Greensboro home Dischell took over the sunroom, ripping up the carpet, tossing the couch on the curb and moving the television set out. Her family learned to adjust and she began painting away in her sunlit abode. But after a period of reworking old paintings she ran into Shannon Duffy at Border’s while babysitting. The two struck up a conversation and Dischell learned that Duffy was a metalsmith and painter working out of Lyndon Street Artworks. Duffy was looking for an artist to share space with and Dischell gave a visit to the studio, deciding immediately to move in.

That was January, and since then Dischell says she’s become more productive and creative than in any other time in her past. This productivity has led to her first Greensboro art show that has just gone on display at Café Nouveau on Spring Garden Street.

There her large canvases fill the walls, adding splashes of color that make the gourmet restaurant’s white tablecloths and glistening dishes seem even more elegant. The restaurant plans to serve wine and cheese on Oct. 26 when the public is invited to view Dischell’s work. Dischell will also be holding a private reception for close friends and acquaintances at a later date.

Back at her studio she continues to work on new paintings ‘— paintings that are eager to inspire, to haunt, to speak to the soul, and paintings that are eager to hang on new walls.

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