Copper in the Arts

July 2011

Karina Keri-Matuszak: Finding Herself in the Abstract

By Anney E. J. Ryan

Clouds of Promise Clouds of Promise, oil on copper, by Karina Keri-Matuszak

Photograph courtesy of Karina Keri-Matuszak

Being a successful artist means knowing what you are good at, and copper painter Karina Keri-Matuszak is living proof. Years ago, when she enrolled at London's American College for the Applied Arts, she planned to focus on fashion design, but later found her true calling in abstract paintings on copper.

"I hated abstract art in art school," says Keri-Matuszak. "Teachers gave me an assignment and I didn't want to do it. I went out and got a bottle of wine to get through it."

But, she surprised herself by getting an A on her first abstract assignment in art school, one of the only in the class. More abstract assignments followed; teachers and classmates echoed praise at what she did. Even though abstract art wasn't something she thoroughly enjoyed, she heeded the props and began practicing and studying abstract art.

Today, Keri-Matuszak is a successful entrepreneur, living and working in Dacula, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in abstract oil paintings on copper. Since 2005, her work has received nothing but positive feedback.

Detail of Clouds of PromiseDetail of Clouds of Promise, oil on copper by Karina Keri-Matuszak

Photograph courtesy of Karina Keri-Matuszak

She sold her first piece on Ebay in 2005. Additional sales followed on its coattails. To become more widely recognized, Keri-Matuszak showed pieces of her collection to restaurants like Staley's Grace in Atlanta. Immediately owners asked her to cover an entire wall of the establishment with her paintings.

In March of 2008, Keri-Matuszak's copper paintings were featured on reality TV show, College Hill . The show used her work as part of the set design.

"All the drama happened in the room my art was in!" Keri-Matuszak told me.

Viewers noticed. After the episode aired, one of her pieces from the show was auctioned on Ebay. Later that year, readers voted her Best Emerging Visual Artist in Creative Loafing magazine. Her work also appeared in the book FORM, Artistic Independence .

Currently, Keri-Matuszak's pieces can be viewed and purchased from Etsy, Ebsquart, Ebay, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and her own site, Atlanta Copper Works.

Basically, Keri-Matuszak is everywhere.

The internet is the link to how Keri-Matuszak maintains living as a working artist. She claims that it's what has helped make art her sole occupation.

"If you want to make money, you need to look at art as a business. It's a job. It's work. Every week, you have a project to turn in," says Keri-Matuszak.

Heatwave Heatwave, oil on copper, by Karina Keri-Matuszak

Photograph courtesy of Karina Keri-Matuszak

Not to imply that she's in it just for the money. Rather, Keri-Matusak understands the difference between art as a hobby and art as a job. As she pointed out in our interview, Picasso completed two or three paintings a day. Practice is a huge part of being successful at a craft. So is output.

Half of her job is playing a bit of a clairvoyant, trying to figure out what collectors will like. The other half is maintaining her own sense of inspiration and excitement, when sitting down to work every day. If she wants to be able to sit down to work every day, she has to compromise.

Her works typically feature one of eight main designs. These designs remain the core of her repertoire, because they have proven to be the most popular among buyers. There are basic geometric patterns, spirals, squares, planetary circles, trees, and surrealist landscapes.

"It's funny," she says. "Men tend to prefer the planetary designs. Each new one, my husband and son will say, 'That's the best you've ever done!' Collectors will usually prefer one design over the others. So I try to cater to what anyone would like."

Keri-Matuszak works with both a subjective and an objective mind. She remembers that her collectors are subjective in what they buy, so she must remain objective in what she makes.

By creating an array of different designs, Keri-Matuszak is able to connect with all art enthusiasts, regardless of their individual preferences.

"I bought watercolors a year ago," said Keri-Matuszak. "But I never opened the box. This is what people seem to enjoy."

Hold on Tight Hold on Tight by Karina Keri-Matuszak

Photograph courtesy of Karina Keri-Matuszak

Keri-Matuszak rarely works in mediums other than copper and oil paint. This is her signature, and signature is key. There' s a lot of competition, especially among artists in other mediums, to find a niche, to create art beyond the typical landscape or bowl of fruit. By painting on copper, Keri-Matuszak gives collectors something that they haven't seen before.

"It's a warmer material," she says. "I've done work with aluminum, but aluminum is so different, not flexible like copper. Copper is also a useful metal for feng shui. Buyers use it to bring love and romance or wealth and prosperity into their homes. It's a very popular anniversary gift and it lasts forever, so they can look at it every day. "

Copper is also a popular medium for collectors who are interested in accenting the interior design of their homes.

"Copper is contemporary. It's a twist on metal art. Collectors like metal, but they don't want tons of silver around them," says Keri-Matuszak. "I can give them color and shimmer. They feel like they are getting a metal sculpture and a metal painting. People who don't necessarily like metal art, appreciate paintings on metal."

Keri-Matuszak reaches collectors who appreciate industrial art, as well as collectors who appreciate fine art, respectively.

How does Keri-Matuszak stay inspired, amidst all of this salesmanship?

There are three definitive steps to creating a Keri-Matuszak piece. First, she cuts pliable copper sheets by hand and nails them to wooden boards. Next, she paints abstract art on the copper. Finally, nature and chance take over. Whatever happens to the paint, the copper, or the board, happens. Keri-Matuszak doesn't try to make her creations flawless; she leaves room for chance.

Peace of Mind Peace of Mind by Karina Keri-Matuszak

Photograph courtesy of Karina Keri-Matuszak

It is within these stages that artistry comes into her process, how she continues to stay fresh and inspired, despite the routine of running a business. However, she gives herself the license to play around within those stages.

On any given day, she may look at her inventory and realize that she needs "another tree painting'. To keep the process fresh, she tries new colors and also plays with the construction of the copper sheet on the wooden boards, trying different sizes and positions.

It helps that copper is such an unpredictable medium. Oil paint drips and slides right off it, and her copper canvases wrinkle and bend. Each work changes with the weather and elements.

"It takes time, trial and error to learn how to paint on it," said Keri-Matuszak.

Sometimes she adds drying agents, or lets a nail protrude from its wooden frame. The mystery, the unknown, keeps her invested in the process. The benefit of being an abstract artist is that she doesn't look at the drips and wrinkles as flaws. Rather, she studies the copper, figuring out what she can do to draw attention to the flaws and bring out the beauty of it. If she comes across a sheet of copper that has been creased during manufacturing, she makes that crease a part of the painting. If the subject is a tree, that's where the trunk will go.

"I let the piece talk to me and the beauty comes out on its own," she explained.

She also treats the copper as a separate color in the painting. This is just another step in the process, but one that can change, depending on the subject of the piece and the texture of the copper. First, she paints. Then, either using turpentine or a sharp-edged implement, Keri- Matuszak will rub or scratch the paint away. She's even brought a Dremel tool to the copper canvas before.

"It's important to have the copper showing through a little bit; that's what sets it apart from the canvas painting."

Since copper changes with light, a painting looks different at different times of the day. Keri-Matuszak tries to create a piece so the viewer's eye is brought through the whole piece, so each time, he or she might see something a little different.

She also has fun with the presentation of the paintings, leaving nails and hammer marks in the board that holds the copper painting.

"Collectors really like shabby chic," she states. "There's a sense of old world preservation, but with a contemporary twist... a cross between modern art deco and traditional sensibilities. Two genres collide."

As a born and bred southerner, Keri-Matuszak appreciates folk art. The rustic earthy elements of her paintings feel like home to her, like a farmhouse that's been reconditioned. Altogether -the copper, the design, and the presentation work together to make something unique that no other artist can give a collector.

Life inspires Keri-Matuszak as well. She explained to me that most of her ideas come from experiencing art not through an art museum, but through life. She's inspired by music, movies, friends' stories. Even a trip to her son's school will affect her work.

"I get inspired by student artwork," she says. "It's raw and fresh, free from molds. It encourages me to revisit a technique I might have forgotten about. There's the energy and desire to express emotion."

The creation process keeps her painting from becoming anything routine. She loves taking a small thing - a sheet of copper, some wood - and turning it into something meaningful for someone.

"Each piece has a significant title," she explains. "I give the explanation of the title when I sell a piece. Some are personal. Some are silly. It's a personal connection, a secret between me and the owner."

At the end of a sale, it's not just about money changing hands. It's about sharing in the artistic process.

Resources:

Karina Keri-Matuszak, Atlanta Copper Works, Atlanta, GA

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