Karen Hackenberg received her BFA in painting from RISD, moved west to live for a decade and a half in San Francisco, and now lives and works near Seattle, WA.
In her ongoing painting and drawing series, she takes a light-hearted yet subversive approach to the serious subject of ocean degradation, presenting a tongue-in-cheek taxonomy of imaginary post-consumer sea creatures. Working traditionally with oil, gouache, colored pencil, and graphite, she lovingly and meticulously crafts images of beach trash, aiming to create a provocative visual juxtaposition of form and idea.
Her paintings are inspired by the incongruity of the man-made detritus that washes up on the otherwise pristine beach below her studio – plastic shards, plastic bottles, plastic toy animals, shotgun shells, and product packages, to name a few. With her ear to the sand for a close view, she poses and photographs the flotsam on the beach where it strands in a semi-documentary style, and then uses the photos as reference for her paintings. The resulting compositions often depict the beach trash as monolithic in the seascape, and provide visual metaphors for the overwhelming magnitude of the issue of marine debris. She is influenced by Pop Art of the 1960s – Claes Oldenburg’s monumental everyday objects, as well as Ed Ruscha’s paintings combining marketing graphics with images of nature.
In Hackenberg’s new Sea Tangle Suite of drawings, she expands on environmental themes by working from direct observation on the beach, drawing freehand directly onto the screen of an iPad Pro with a digital Apple Pencil, using a technique similar to that of David Hockney in his iPad landscape drawings. In both cases, the process of creating of these images resembles that of traditional printmaker’s hand-pulled prints, where there is no other original besides the print. Hackenberg’s Sea Tangle drawings are intentionally unfinished to embrace an open-ended and unresolved aesthetic, and are produced in limited editions of fifteen archival pigment prints on Arches paper.
Her work was recently chosen for the noteworthy exhibition, Northwest Art Now at the Tacoma Art Museum, curated by TAM’s Rock Hushka, and Juan-Roselione, curator of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. Her additional museum exhibitions include a solo exhibition at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art; the U.S. traveling Environmental Impact show; Neo-Naturalists at Museum of Northwest Art; Stilleven: Contemporary Still Life at Hallie Ford Museum of Art; and Beneath the Surface: Rediscovering a World Worth Conserving at A.A.A.S. headquarters, Washington DC.
Her green sensibility has earned a place in numerous private and public collections, including the New York State Museum, NY, the Portland Art Museum, OR, the Tacoma Art Museum, WA, the Washington State Art Collection, Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, WA, and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, OR.