Karen Swenholt is a figurative sculptor who lives and works in Northern Virginia. After attending MICA and California College of the Arts, she continued her studies at various studio schools, including New York City's New York Studio School under Bruce Gagnier, Virginia's Art League, and the Art League.
Influences from the West Coast Bay Area figurative movement combined with the emotional power of abstract expressionism from her East Coast origins form the foundation of Swenholt's work. The rough painterly surfaces of her sculptures contrast with their grace. She is particularly effective at depicting the human face along with gesture to convey emotion and movement.
Karen Swenholt's works have been exhibited in various museums and galleries, including Still Point Gallery in Alpharetta, Georgia; Waterfall Mansion & Gallery in NYC, NY; Dadian Gallery in Washington DC Sewall-Belmont Museum in Washington and Gallery Imperato in Baltimore, MD, to name a few. Swenholt was selected to the Artist in Residence at Convergence in Alexandria, Virginia, where her large-scale sculptures are viewed in their Sculpture Garden. She was part of the Artist-in-Residence at Washington Shakespeare Company from 2002-2011 and at Wesley Theological Seminary throughout 2010. Her work was collected in many public and private collections, including the home of Bono (U2), The Vladimir Romanov Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, and public institutions, including Cairn University in Philadelphia, Wesley Theological Seminary, and other public institutions across the United States.
Karen Swenholt views the world as a beautiful nest built for humanity. Her view of man’s function in the universe is optimistic and respectful but she is aware that loss can crash into any life at any time. Her work reflects these tensions as she sculpts little monuments to the passions of humankind and her understanding of God’s role in the world.
Stylistically, she is drawn to layers of visual beauty and meaning as found in works by Goya, Manuel Neri, Munch, Velasquez, Rodin, Michelangelo, and expressive art such as the Grunewald Altarpiece. Respect for abstraction and formal beauty also informs her aesthetic.
Victor Hugo’s quote that “In the Middle Ages, man had no great thought that he did not put in stone,” encapsulates Swenholt’s belief that art is a language with which one can understand and be understood. She sculpts figures from both imagination and the model, using the model’s pose as a found object. The seed of memory or truth that first inspires the piece matures into meaning side-by-side with exploration of the form. This dual search for beauty and truth acts as the legs that take her from initial inspiration to the completion of the piece.
On occasion, she accompanies her sculpture with words in verse format. She likens these to song lyrics that do not stand alone, can be roughly expressed, but can still enrich the music it accompanies.