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Art: Interview with Karen Gimbel

By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

Karen Gimbel first contacted us at Spectrum after picking up a back issue of the magazine at a college bookstore. As
an artist who had long been away from the church, Karen says that
Spectrum gave her hope of an opportunity to engage in dialogue on
important issues. For Karen personally, one of those issues is
art and its convergence with spirituality. Karen says of creating art, “For me, my works are prayer made visible, the invisible made manifest in this world.”Karen’s email to us led to
the showcasing of one of her artworks on the cover of Spectrum. The newest issue of the magazine, with Karen’s beautiful abstract piece, “Through a Glass Darkly,” on the cover, will be landing in the mailboxes of subscribers in the next few days.

It has been a pleasure to correspond with Karen and to hear about her spiritual and artistic journey. Following is our conversation on the significance of art in a spiritual life, desire, why the act of creation is like pregnancy, and much more. A subtle point Karen makes is about the importance of listening. “I seek to deepen my capacities to listen to the spirit who moves through me and creates art,” she says. It struck me that, artist or not, listening–to one another, to the world around us, to the voice of the divine–is a significant part of the journey of spiritual growth.  

 Tell me about your journey–with art and with the Seventh-day Adventist church.

K. Gimbel: I grew up in a large extended family of devoted Seventh-day Adventists – several generations on both sides. I also had an intense yearning to create art. When
I was 30 I had enough disillusionment about the church that I left the
church in a very conscious and articulated (and angry) way. In my
journey to individuate and find my own spiritual path, my efforts
toward finding creative expression was a vital element. Any ability
that I might have to receive inspiration that I am able to manifest in
works of art is a result of this deep inner spiritual work – and
the fruit of my long years of searching for my own relationship to a
God of my own understanding. It is a very sweet kind of homecoming to
see my art on the cover of Spectrum. I am only now
turning to my history with a curiosity about how to integrate and
understand my first 30 years of Seventh-day Adventist religious and
social conditioning. 
SF-J: Do you find parallels between the journey of the artist and that of the believer?
K. Gimbel: My art and my spirituality are deeply connected, but I don’t like the word “believer.” I’ve devoted a lot of my spiritual practice to learning how to not divide the world into believers and non-believers. I am an individual who is seeking to deepen a relationship with God or Christ, and I could be called a person of faith. In a similar way I seek to deepen my capacities to listen to the spirit who moves through me and creates art. There are definitely parallels there, some of which are still very mysterious to me, and I like it that way!

SF-J: Many
of your paintings are abstract and filled with bold washes of color.
Where do you find the inspiration for your artwork? What are you
exploring in your art?

K. Gimbel: Inspiration… this is a great mystery to me. I feel that much of my inspiration is a listening process. I tune in to some inner music, or another way of putting it is that I listen to the whisper of an inner voice (Holy Spirit?). It is a very intense experience, and yet is also tremendously subtle. Sometimes it comes through as an image, other times as words. Sometimes it is a shape, or a color. Sometimes
it’s an idea that’s as clear as “yellow squares”… other times it’s a
growing insistence to try something new, like using a piece of wood for the
plate of a monoprint to get texture in the print…
It can also be, at times, a particular scene or memory that just must be expressed somehow. It’s rather rare for that to be photographic or representational. More often it is a feeling that comes through in another, more abstract way.
I truly feel the connection with inspiration and touching the face of God. Or feeling like God moves through me when get out of the way and let it flow or move through me.

 What are some of your influences–artistic and otherwise?
K. Gimbel: Big skies (especially in Alberta and Alaska), early evening light, close views of abstract colors and patterns in nature.
there are the artists whose work I have admired over the years (Gustave
Klimt, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keefe, Emily Carr, Morris Graves,
Wassily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko) who explored new forms of art without
concern for what the rest of the world thought of their work. The artists I’m most interested in have also been exploring the question of art and spirituality (NOT religion).

Poets are also a strong influence (Rumi, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Hafiz, Denise Levertov, Pablo Neruda, Billy Collins). Titling my works is a kind of listening – always after they are complete, kind of like completing a poem.

also had the great good fortune to count among my friends many working
artists and poets, and to have had a couple of very encouraging and
supportive teachers. My daughters, Heather and Katrina,
have been both teachers (modeling both diligent practice and taking
risks creatively) and steadfast supporters of my steps toward
expressing myself. I fantasize about a website featuring
the work of the Gimbel Girls, as both of my daughters are accomplished
artists in their own right!

SF-J: Are you a full-time artist? What is your creative process like

K. Gimbel: Currently my art is not a full-time activity, and I’m not even sure I want it to be. I’m much too sanguine in nature to be happy doing one thing. I enjoy working with people, and am currently employed part-time at a green building supply shop here in Floyd County ( My art has been growing as an income source, and therefore requires more of my focus from the business side. My
intention is to allow my creativity room to express in art, and
concurrently to devote the time and energy to the business, in the
hopes that my life can be more supported by art and I could choose to
not have other employment.
My creative process is kind of like getting pregnant. I
feel the need to create growing in me, often with ideas that need
expression, or images that come to me as inspiration, and then I’m
gestating. Eventually I know I will need to create the time and space to get out my art supplies and have another round of doing art. I’ve
not had a dedicated studio space yet, so my work usually involved
clearing the better part of a day to get out my papers, inks, and
tools, dance with the colors and other processes for a chunk of time,
then put everything away at the end of the day. One of
the biggest challenges is finding space for the monoprints to dry
overnight in the one room cabin we’re caretaking this winter! My
fiancé/partner is very supportive and long-suffering in this process
that can have a fairly big impact on our shared living space!

 Why do you create art?
K. Gimbel: That’s kind of like asking, “Why do you eat? Why do you breathe?” I create because I have to. If I don’t allow that space, or honor those desires, then something in me dies. I believe that God speaks to us through our desires (that is why my blog is titled “Art For Joy: an exploration of desire.” Which is not to say that our desires are always to be expressed exactly as we feel them
discussion could be had about the “purification of desire”), but that
when we pay attention in our lives, and we are attending to our
spiritual practices, our desires can actually inform our actions in
ways that uplift and contribute to the world. I believe
that all great art, or for that matter, any great contribution to the
world’s body of wisdom and beauty, comes from this desire to create, to
manifest in the physical world what has been experienced in an inner
sense, which to me is God in us.

SF-J: How is art significant for the person of faith? Can it have meaning for those who are not creators of art?

K. Gimbel: My
art has great significance for me in terms of my relationship to God.
Anyone who engages with art as viewer has the option to open themselves
to be touched in their own way by the same source that informed the
artist. I’ve had many people tell me how deeply my art
has touched them, moved them, and when they describe their experience I
feel a deep affirmation of the process I’m involved in as creator. Something is moving through me when I create, and something is speaking to the viewer who relates to that art. To me, that something is the mystery we call God.

SF-J: Where do you see your journey taking you from here?
K. Gimbel: It’s always new, and always the same. Every time I approach my work I go through the same fears, and the temptation to return to something that worked before. For me the challenge is to keep my listening open and to hold “success’ lightly. When a piece really works, really moves me, these fears don’t disappear – they actually increase! Will I ever be able to do this again? I intend to continue to work with this process until the day I die. This is why I am here. It’s risky business, there can be many disappointments. However,
there is no other way to feel God in me than to be willing to be burned
by my own desires in what I think of as ” the crucible” of  co-creation.

For more on these topics and to see more of Karen Gimbel’s art, visit her blog:
Art for Joy.
Or read the artist’s full bio. For more conversation on the spiritual life, consider subscribing to Spectrum.
Did Karen Gimbel’s thoughts strike a chord, trigger a thought? Share with us.

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