Enter Into Joy

Monday, March 7, 2011

29 Pieces in Dallas Morning News

Karen Blessen in 29 Pieces studio
 Photo by Kye R. Lee, Staff Photographer, The Dallas Morning News

The Path to Peace
For Karen Blessen,
it's where creativity and spirituality converge

By ERIN BOOKE, Staff Writer, The Dallas Morning News, ebooke@dallasnews.com
Published, The Dallas Morning News, 05 March 2011

For Karen Blessen, creativity and spirituality must coexist.
About 11 years ago, the local artist and illustrator witnessed a murder in front of her home that changed her creative and spiritual paths. She began a meditation practice in order to bring them together.
“I asked myself, am I where I want to be?” Blessen says. “Meaning spiritually, not even careerwise or financially. And the answer was no.”
Her meditation involves memorizing passages from major faith traditions — Christian, Buddhist, American Indian — and creating a response.
“Let me walk in beauty.”
“If the very world should stop.”
“Dying of love is what I hope for.”

Repeating these sacred phrases led to an “outrageous burst of creative spirit,” Blessen says. During a five-month period in 2006 she created mixed-media, small-scale models to represent each passage. She envisions the project, called 29 Pieces, as a collection of enormous sculptures where others can gather and seek spiritual inspiration.
“It was a very compelling conviction,” she says. “It encapsulates everything I have in me, and in a way, it’s way bigger than me. Because what’s being expressed is a universal longing.”
For now, the pieces can be seen at Blessen’s studio in Deep Ellum. The clean, cool, spare gallery space creates a serene atmosphere that lets visitors focus on the message and forget the world around them.
“This space is a sanctuary for this work,” Blessen says. “It has a quietness to it that allows people to listen to the creative message that we don’t hear when we have a lot of cacophony around us.”
The collection of 29 models lines one wall, while images of what the large installations would look like line another.
Blessen comes to this space to write, think and envision. “I wanted it to be a white, restrained and simple space that wouldn’t stir up my mind or agitate me. A sacred, quiet space.”
When Blessen sits down to create, be it her personal work or illustrations for clients, she requires some privacy and a quiet room of her own. At her M Streets home, Blessen’s workspace is a loft studio in her woodsy backyard.
“I find it impossible to work in my own home,” she says. “I need a separation of some kind, a ritualistic separation from the day-to-day. In the home it’s too tempting to do laundry.”
To get to her backyard studio, Blessen begins the separation by walking 100 feet down a rocky path and up a turquoise spiral staircase.
The studio, designed by Phillips-Ryburn Associates and inspired by the Mexico home of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, is filled with color and more visual stimulation than her spiritual space in Deep Ellum.
The industrial windows allow the sights and sounds of nature to encapsulate Blessen as she works. “I’m definitely a light addict,” she says.
Yes, KB's desk is ALWAYS this tidy.
Photo by Kye R. Lee, Staff Photographer, The Dallas Morning News
She surrounds herself with past works of art, personal photos, folk art pieces made by her husband, and mementos that remind her of travels, family members and other artists who’ve inspired her.
“I do have the presence of people who were instrumental to me,” she says.
Her dad was a carpenter and built a collapsible ruler that Blessen keeps on a nearby shelf. “It always impressed me that he could make things,” she says. Her mother also is a big presence. There’s a large poster of an illustration that Blessen designed for a Mother’s Day piece she wrote.
“My mom really inspired me with her kindness,” she says. “In some ways she was my spiritual teacher … in a church lady kind of way. I learned about how to treat people. To be kind to people and each other. She guided me more than anybody else.”
Blessen now guides others in their artistic and spiritual quests. Local spoken-word artist and creative-writing teacher Will Richey asked Blessen to mentor him, and he eventually came to use her Deep Ellum studio as his own space to create. He’s not just inspired by the space, but by Blessen’s presence.
“It’s a place where I can get away and get some peace,” he says. “It also embodies who she is — a beautiful, unconditional person. The studio is synonymous with the spirit of Karen.”
Richey is used to writing and working in busier, louder places, and even listens to music on headphones in order to block out the world. So Blessen’s space is a nice retreat.
“While I’ve learned to write and communicate in the midst of the world we live in,” he says, “there’s something about going to such a peaceful place.”
To learn more about Karen Blessen’s 29 Pieces art project, visit 29Pieces.org.

KB in front of the backyard studio
Photo by Kye R. Lee, Staff Photographer, The Dallas Morning News


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