Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Painting from the Inside

Painter, scholar and healer, Karuna Licht's life follows these three parallel paths. Her story reflects a special time in the world, and in our community. Big Sur is her muse, and her work is unlike that of any other local artist.

As a young girl Karuna lived next to the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. At 7 years old, she saw a woman working in the pottery studio there, and knew she would be an artist. She began as a potter, and her father encouraged her to paint in watercolor as well. The German Abstract Expressionist Emil Nolde, who created miniature watercolors which he called his Unpainted Pictures during the 1940's, was also an early influence. She looked at his work and knew she could push the boundaries of her medium. Her paintings show a Japanese influence too, in their precision and Zen-like quality.

Karuna was a Fine Arts major at Hunter College, and came to California in 1965. She began working in her own studio in the Carmel Highlands, creating watercolors and abstract pottery. As a potter, Karuna explains, she "learned to meditate—how to be still, centered and focused." "Watercolors," she adds, "are for decisive people. You work fast. And with kids, it was easy to clean up afterwards."

At this time, she discovered Big Sur (like so many of us) via Nepenthe. Also, she read the Henry Miller (who also came from Brooklyn) work Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, and decided to build her life here.

Karuna practiced holotropic breathwork with Stanislav Grof at the Esalen Institute, an experience which led to deeper spiritual explorations. She, along with many of the movers and shakers at Esalen at the time, visited Baghwan Shree Rajneesh at his ranch in Oregon. To Karuna, one of his most appealing ideas was that the world will change only when women are in leadership roles, liberated both sexually and intellectually. (I'd like to think that's now coming true.)

She began doing Simkin Gestalt therapy and led Gestalt groups for women in Monterey County. At this time, she relates, women were just beginning to put into words their own psychology, asking the radical question: what if I put my own identity in the center of my reality and started looking at my life? At UCSC she entered the field of feminist studies. For the past three decades she has worked as a psychotherapist, having earned a Masters degree in the psychology of women, via an extension program of Antioch College.

Karuna's life and art have undergone a massive transformation in the past 5 years. She considered leaving Big Sur, but remembered what Ram Dass said about "only moving the furniture around, yet not changing the core. " Instead, she renewed her studies of painting, with Mendocino Abstract Expressionist painter Judith Hale, who encouraged her to paint in acrylic, which she now does exclusively. Her work can be seen today at the Del Campo Gallery in Big Sur and at the Valley Girls Gallery in Carmel Valley.

"I don't want to be only a landscape painter," Karuna says, "I want to paint what's inside me." Judith Hale suggested she paint with a 4 inch brush, the same instructions she'd received at Hunter College so long ago. "I gave myself 2 years to learn this medium, 3 years to have a show and 5 years to make it! And I did."

"Clarity" in acrylic
"Monet's Garden" in watercolor
An early piece done in a Stanislav Grof workshop
"Big Sur Fire 2008" in acrylic

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