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In and Out Again

Karen Laudon and Mike Bl​​ockstein at San Jose State by Casey Fitzsimons


Inspired, perhaps, by public television images of pulsing hearts and contracting tubes in the human body, Karen Laudon's actual-sized paintings of body organs use these new images as legitimate art content. Though they lack the drama of early clinical images by Thomas Eakins, these are not passe-partouts into the tabernacle of the body, but documents of things that accompany us through life, fondly worked and very unshocking, like the chairs, books and bottles that evoke human presence when the face itself is unseen. Accordingly, when Laudon adds a human face, its impact is only a literal iteration of her anatomical sitting room. Her four-part Within and Without reads sentimentally; its generic faces and indistinct vignette.


She sends clear signals with singleton images like Internal Fossil #8, the portrait of an internal organ labored over like the likeness of a loved one, a fossil only in the sense that its uncovering is both tedious and dangerous, and by Murmur, a rib cage that beckons and forewarns like a dark staircase. In vivisections as in archeology, what is uncovered should sometimes have been left alone, and 

Art Stops


​​ Here are just a few of your choices for exhibits to check out this Gallery Night and Day: Dean Jensen Gallery: Karen Laudon “Cross sections”


“Cross Sections” at Dean Jensen Gallery is the first Wisconsin show for Karen Laudon. Although she recently returned to the state, she earned her B.F.A. at the San Francisco Art Institute and has up till now exhibited primarily on the West Coast. Laudon's vivid, textured works evoke growth, regeneration and decay. Artist reception 6 to 9 p.m., Friday. July 29. 10 a.m to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 30. 759 N. Water St. Exhibit through Sept. 3

Past Exhibits

Laudon's uncertainty about the possibilities of her subject matter is evidenced by her various treatments of it-as a still like in Cessation, as a literal if well-composed rendering in Patience of Job, as metaphor for social interaction in Gift Exchange. The distressed surface and over-the-edges painting reveal the artist self-consciousness about the works as objects.

Laudon's incongruous images cross many lines


In her most recent painting series “Cross sections,” Karen Laudon attempts to reconcile ideas and imagery that normally are contentious or contradictory to one another- the interior and exterior of the body, the real and abstract, birth and death, sensuality and violence.


She doesn't simply bring these things into tension, she presents them as a single, identical whole, as if she's letting her inner D.H. Lawrence and Quentin Tarantino come out to play – together.


Laudon spills, puddles and scrapes vibrant, fleshy- colored paint that takes on sculptural substance, looking, at once, like slabs of cut meat in a butcher shop and indistinct, inexplicably sexual aspects of the human body. The overall feel is brutal but fragile, a combination that seduces while it repulses.


The work, which toys with figuration yet falls squarely within the realm of Abstract Expressionism, also shares a not-so-obvious affinity with the 17th century still lifes that had a tradition of exploring mortality. In decadent arrangements of flowers and fruits, living and cut, whole and sliced open, things were coming into the full ripeness of life while also necessarily falling into decay. To make the sobering point clear, a skull was often worked into the composition.

Some of Laudon's sculptures take the incongruities a step further. Black humor and wit are played off the sobriety and darkness of her monster-like creatures.


One sculpture, in the spirit and palette of Philip Guston's grotesques, looks a bit like a twirled up snake, or and about-to-pounce creature from “Alien II” or a stale honey bun from Krispy Kreme. With its small eyes peering up the doughnut-creature is cloaked in a charm that lets the aggression reveal itself openly and freely.


Since the start of her career in the early 1990s when she studied cadavers and models, Laudon's work has betrayed a woman haunted and dogged by a sense of mortality. Personal experiences, such as watching her fathers body yielding to leukemia and later giving birth herself, have only strengthened Laudon's fixations.


Presumably finding figurative work limiting, she has created paintings that have become increasingly abstract, rich in color and expressive. They also are perhaps less resolved than the earlier work, if more provocative. Laudon's conceptual engine is somewhat precise and exacting, but her agenda is not. In fact, she appears to have none. The meanings, for viewers, can be singular and inexplicable.


Laudon received her bachelor's and master's degrees in art from the San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied with painters such as Julius Hatofsky, Bruce McGaw, and served as assistant to Gregory Amenoff. Originally from Milwaukee and recently returned to the area, she has exhibited primarily in West Coast museums and galleries. The show at Dean Jensen Gallery is her first solo show in Wisconsin.

State of Being


​​ Gallery owner Dean Jensen likens Karen Laudon's work to a much more famous contemporary, Kiki Smith. Both artists watched cherished family members succumb to wasting diseases. Both, he says, are concerned with the “fragility of life.” Laudon, however, is less figurative employing an ironically abstract method to explore human frailty. The Madison resident pools bold spreads of oil and acrylic pigment on her canvases; her sculptures look like they've been forced into shapes with a constipated cookie press. Jensen, a former art critic, asserts that Laudon's work “has a depth of feeling- and complexity of ideas- that I don’t often see in the contemporary art that's produced in Wisconsin.” Reason enough to visit Dean Jensen Gallery and judge whether his instincts are still sharp.

Laudon's abstract oil paintings range from small to medium-sized. Most having fleshy impasto surfaces in reds, pinks and peaches- evidence that the time she spent sketching cadaver as a graduate student remains critically important to her work. Body references are more obvious in the four figurative sculptures made of self-hardening clay, encaustic and acrylic. Many of her sculptures began as models for paintings and drawings, yet in their own right they remain intimate, haunting and surreal. Curiously mesmerizing to be sure, they range from a heart supported by veins to a creepy birds head, sans eyes with a nest inside.


The most exciting work was the last thing I saw – Laudon's drawings. Though she thinks of them as studies, a way “to move through new ideas more quickly,” they appeared to be the most accomplished of her work. She uses gouache, ink, conte and charcoal, always on handmade paper to create drawings that exist in the middle ground between abstraction and figuration. In them, her gestures are unrestrained, and the rolling forms she generates most clearly communicate her interests: the perpetual cycle of death, decay and finally renewal.


Laudon's drawings, paintings and sculptures are various viewpoints of the same idea. She investigates the space in which mind and body merge, and in her aptly named show examines the intricacies thereof.

Karen Laudon: Cross sections


​​Karen Laudon: Cross sections

Where: Dean Jensen Gallery, 759 N. Water St. (map)

Gallery Night: Artist reception 6-9 p.m. Friday, July 29.

After Gallery Night: The exhibit runs through Sept. 3. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue-Sat.

Info: (414) 278-7100,


Preview art from this event

Karen Laudon, “Cross sections #26”

Karen Laudon, “Cross sections #15”


Karen Laudon's “Cross sections”  is her first solo show in Wisconsin, a significant event considering she's a Milwaukee native who recently returned to the state. The title of the exhibition is taken from the series of paintings on display, each one bearing the name “Cross section,”  followed by a number. It's also fitting because the show is a multilayered sample of Laudon's work.


During a visit to Dean Jensen's gallery in advance of the show, a visit to the back room was a trip through Laudon's process and interests: first her paintings, then on to her sculptures, and finally to her drawings, still stacked neatly on the vertical files (the works hadn't been installed yet.)



Waterbones was the first in a series of exhibitions which implicated the human condition, an ever-present concern as we approached the new millennium. 



Karen Laudon presents work that coolly defies classification. It is neither abstract nor figurative, but nonetheless recalls human forms. This recognition comes more from internal views of the body, rather than outward appearances. Laudon paints on canvas, as well as on wood panel. Her work is characterized by intense luminosity. She writes of her work:


“My recent work grows out of a natural evolution rooted in the human figure and moving continually inward – into the literal internal body and inward into an abstract world where external and internal meet. Here, opposites coexist out of necessity. They are dual parts of one whole and each holds the seed of the other within itself: birth and death, pain and release, growth and disintegration, expansion and contraction, attraction and repulsion. The tenuous nature of the boundaries between these becomes apparent, as between human body and animal body, between body and landscape, between visceral and spiritual. The painting process, as I experience it, allows these boundaries to be explored in a very fluid way, enabling me to articulate my understanding of those things which defy articulation by other means.”

she says regarding the paintings in this early, somber series. “I love color; I can't get enough of it. It's just so powerful, and oil paint has the ability to be so luminous and the colors so strong. Color has an ability to create certain emotional qualities,” she adds.


In more recent years, Laudon's colors became more vibrant, reflecting her changing outlook as well as her move to the abstract. Part of this move came from studying cadavers as models, which she said made her confront mortality in “a pretty inspiring way.” It also showed her that naturalistic portrayals of the body itself could be limiting and that she felt a need for more abstract, transformative, organic elements.


Many paintings at Montalvo, including a handful from Laudon's “Internal Garden” series, exhibit an almost surreal blend of body and landscape imagery in which the boundaries blur between human, animal, plant and nature.


Some paintings definitely lean toward the external environment, such as “Moon Cradle,” a large canvas painted in a luminous predominance of purple, blue teal and green. It may be a view of the mood from within a tidepool; alternately, it resembles a vista of mountains and valleys illuminated by the glowing lunar body.


Other paintings such as “Bloom Cycle” No.1-4 and “Internal Garden” No. 3 and No. 4, could be shimmeringly beautiful under the sea views or perspectives from within the mysterious, unexplored inner space of the body. Tiny items resembling flowers, bones, sperm and fish and gracefully convoluted tissues can be found in these and other paintings – or are these simply abstract images meant to resemble their more tangible counterparts? Laudon says she is sometimes unsure herself, but that just adds to the enigmatic appeal.


“There are so many intriguing similarities between the natural landscape and the human body. Certain forms appear in nature and in the body. It's largely the viewer's perception that determines what the painting is” she says.


“I don't necessarily paint to send a message: 'This is what this is about' If it speaks to [the viewer] at all, even if it's in an inexplicable way, that’s something I'm pretty happy about.”


“Waterbones” runs through Feb. 16. The Gallery, located at 15400 Montalvo Rd. is open Thu and Fri. 1-4 p.m.,Sat. And Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m., before Montalvo concerts and during intermissions. Laudon will be present Feb. 2 at 2 p.m. During an informal talk by Irene Pijoan, a painter and San Francisco Art Institute instructor. For more information, call 741-3421, ext. 331.

Waterbones exhibit moves toward the abstract


​​During her professional artistic career, still less that a decade old, Menlo Park artist Karen Laudon say her images have evolved from the figure to the internal to the abstract. All aspects of this triad come to play in Waterbones, the new exhibit in The Gallery at Villa Montalvo, Saratoga.


The exhibit spans samples of Laudon's art from 1992 through 1996, the majority being recent. She first began incorporating bodily influences into her art in the early 1990s, after she completed a bachelor of fine art degree in painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and entered the master's degree program at the same school.


During this time some members of her family were dealing with serious illnesses; Laudon's art helped her come to terms with this. Among the pieces at Montalvo from this series which depicts bodily organs and bones in a naturalistic way with toned down colors, are “Patience of Job,” ”Murmur,” ”Flux” and “Internal Fossil.”


“Color seems to be an emotional thing with me. I find myself attracted to certain color relationships. I've noticed that my colors became subdued and darker,” 

Lost & Found
Lorine Niedecker Poetry Festival 2014

Emilie Lindemann, UW Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Karen Laudon, artist.


Lost & Found is an inter-arts collaboration by poet Emilie Lindemann and visual artist Karen. Poetry, two dimensional images, and sculpture of wood, other natural materials, and found objects will be included. In 1934, Niedecker became pregnant after an affair with Louis Zukofsky, who convinced Niedecker to have an abortion. When it was discovered that Niedecker had been carrying twins, she named them Lost & Found. This project explores Lorine Niedecker's missed motherhood, her conflicted relationship with her own mother, and thoughts about loss and unrealized potential.

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