By Gina Malone
A Vermont native, Karen Maugans spent years living abroad and working in the fields of physical education and communication sciences and disorders. When she decided, however, that she needed to allow her creative spirit more freedom, she took what had begun as a hobby—photography—and taught herself the ins and outs of doing it professionally. She opened portrait and fine art studios in Cincinnati, OH and Winter Park, FL, before settling into Asheville’s River Arts District.
With light and composition, she elevates everyday items—glassware, sliced melons, bunches of grapes—to sublime status. “In my travels, I visited countless art museums and galleries which inspired my work photographing first portraiture, then still life scenes containing both foods and flowers,” Karen says. “My work fuses inspiration from 17th century European and Dutch painters with modern technology and printing techniques.”
Working with perishable subjects in the studio has its own difficulties. “The greatest challenge in my work is finding fresh materials and keeping them fresh throughout the creative process,” Karen says. “I often have to replace the foods or flowers I use while I’m working, and often do not manage to capture the image before it shrivels or wilts. Then it’s back to the drawing board!”
Karen is solely involved with the artistry of her work on all levels—from the inception of the idea to its execution. “I work independently,” she says, “gathering materials for my images myself, composing and lighting the scenes and capturing them in my darkened studio setting. I use only studio strobe lighting to illuminate the subject matter, controlling the light so it falls only on the subject and not into the surrounding area. This is how I maintain darkness in the backgrounds.”
The traditional subjects get a more modern treatment when it comes time to present the photographs. “The art pieces I have displayed on the walls of my gallery are printed on aluminum and have frames with hanging brackets built into the backside,” says Karen. “This keeps the outside edges frameless, which provides a clean, contemporary look to the otherwise traditional subject matter.” These aluminum pieces are available in limited editions of no more than ten. She also offers prints on a special metallic paper that require framing for support.
Karen’s work combines food, flowers, items from nature and striking display ware in metal, wood, glass and other richly textured elements. Light striking the beautifully arranged subjects picks up on every detail her artistic eye wants a viewer to see with velvety darkness as a backdrop. “Botanicals are a universally appealing symbol of grace, beauty, peace and longing,” she says. “Nothing in nature rivals the remarkable variety of colors, textures, scents and forms of flowers.” Besides these subjects, she also photographs seashells. Her Smoke and Mirrors series combines the fluidity of smoke with objects of glass and metal for a fantastical, dreamy look also captured by her kaleidoscopic images.
“In all my fine art photography, I seek to create a balance of light and shadow, which gives the subject a compelling sense of form and dimension,” Karen says in her artist’s statement. “I am told that my images ‘emerge off the surface’ or appear ‘three-dimensional.’”
Karen Maugans Gallery is located at Riverview Station #104, 191 Lyman Street. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. To learn more, visit KarenMaugansGallery.com or find her on Facebook and Instagram @karenmaugansgallery. Email Karen at Karen@karenmaugansgallery.com or call 407.456.2225.