Karen Wippich worked as a graphic designer for 40 years before fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a full-time artist in 2016. Wippich has found success with her signature collage paintings, featuring large, stoic heads that she hand-selects from her large archive of vintage images. Between renovating a one-room schoolhouse in Canby, Oregon, and working as a seasonal UPS package helper, she was also accepted as the Waterstone Gallery’s newest member. Her first gallery show with Waterstone, Living with Kittens, runs January 2–February 3. 

When did you start painting?

When I was five I thought, “I’m going to be an artist when I grow up!” [Later] I fell into graphic design, which I loved. I got to be creative and do illustration and design and stuff, and I loved that. Then I got old, and I thought: “I don’t really want to spend my whole life doing this. I want to do what I wanted to do when I was five.”

The exhibit is described as exploring themes of “love, loss, and chaos” with kittens. Why kittens?

I recently got separated after being married for 21 years and I bought an old school house built in 1875, so I had all these changes happening. I had this old cat that was 20 years old and she passed away in August, and I was really sad about losing that cat, it was super hard. So I was like, OK, I’m not going to get any more cats. And then one day I went to Fred Meyer and this lady had these two kittens in a box, and they’re little Siamese sisters. They were rescued kittens and they needed a home, so I brought them home. I love them. 

How do you start a new piece?

I always wait for it to come to me. I have this huge archive of images, vintage images, that I go through and when one speaks to me that starts the base of it, and then I build on that. Sometimes it ends up that the end product looks like nothing that I started with. It’s sort of a journey. But I love that part, when it all starts coming together. 

What influences you?

Everything. I’m in this book club, and we’ll be reading a book, and all of a sudden whatever we’re reading some part of that show up in my painting. I don’t know—it’s kind of like a subconscious thing. Like a dream, or something. I’m not sure how to explain it. Things come to me and I don’t know why. If I listen to it, I get paintings I love. If I try to force something I’m usually not as happy with the outcome. 

Are there any recurring themes in your work?

The animals lately are recurring. And big heads are recurring. Then at some point, I’m going to change that because I know how I am.

Why do you like putting big, stoic heads on people?

I don’t know! It looks right to me, and when the head is too little it doesn’t look right. That’s how I know when it’s done. If it looks right to me, if it makes sense, and that makes sense now. But I was thinking in the future I might have really tiny heads. Go the other direction.

Living with Kittens

11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Thu–Sat, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sun, Waterstone Gallery, Jan 3–Feb 3, FREE

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