Journal: Karina Bania: Gallery

Karina Bania speaks to us about the influence of landscape, routines, and why her paintings have less paint than they used to.

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I was born in Menlo Park, Northern California. We then moved abroad for my first five years, living in Panama and Mexico City. When returning to the States, we settled in San Diego. I have traveled and lived abroad, but have called San Diego home most of my life.

Are you formally trained?

I grew up in a house filled with art. My parents collected paintings and sculptures from the places they lived around the world. I remember standing in front of huge paintings trying to see forms in the abstraction. I began painting very young and went each week to an art class at a studio where I was the only child. I remember so well the smell of linseed oil, the slanted afternoon light and the hum of adult conversations. I loved it. I continued painting on and off throughout my adolescence. Largely self-taught, I picked up a paintbrush and a backpack and spent years living around the world developing my art. While living in India I painted and worked with local craftsmen using pigment and dyes, which eventually found their way into my paintings. When I returned to the States, I began painting professionally. Every now and then a class catches my eye and I’ll take it.

Artist Karina Bania walking in front of two gestural paintings installed on a white wall.
Colorful, gestural brushwork paintings on canvas by artist Karina Bania in her studio.

Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?

Most of the time my art-making process is very solitary. It is usually just me alone with my materials, creating art in the studio. One of the things I love most about social media is the connectivity and community with other artists. Daily interaction of artists, studio to studio, makes me feel part of something larger. I have also always surrounded myself with a local creative and artistic community of friends. We all serve to guide and inspire each other. Throughout the years I have collaborated with many different artists on projects and shows. So much is learned through the process of collaboration. I think that it serves to elevate your art and inspire so many new ideas. It is definitely something I love.

Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?

Words are a huge part of my life. Definitely my other love. One of the authors that I return to time and again for inspiration is Pablo Neruda. His descriptions of land, light, time and silence always bring me into the moment and inspire me visually. I also love Uta Barth’s work. The way she captures shadows and light is transfixing. The shapes of Ruth Asawa’s crocheted wire sculptures and the simplicity and lines of ceramic artists like Lucie Rie and Paula Greif also influence the way I look at shapes and lines in my work.

I am not always aware of the connection to a certain place as I begin a painting, but as the work unfolds, I begin to realize the environment that inspired it.

Karina Bania

What scares you?

Time scares me. Specifically, the shortness of life and the length of things I want to experience. When this anxiousness arises I try and remember that depth is the most important aspect of living. Depth is only experienced in the moment, when we are fully present. So I try and slow down becoming aware of the fullness and beauty of the moment.

What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces, intentional or not?

I am endlessly inspired by the natural environment, and often wander landscapes that later return to me as paintings. I am not always aware of the connection to a certain place as I begin a painting, but as the work unfolds, I begin to realize the environment that inspired it. Although my paintings are created in the moment, they are stirred by all that I have experienced before. Many of the themes of my work involve landscapes, the physical landscape of place, but also the invisible or unseen geography a conversation or connection. My compositions play with the intangible forces in life, like the relationship between endless movement and the stillness of a moment. This is represented on the canvas through geometric lines and well-defined shapes next to abstract washes of dye and chaotic marks. Intentional or not, the things I see around me and the energy I feel always makes its way onto the canvas.

In-progress orange and pink gestural painting on canvas by Karina Bania.
Two colorful and gestural brushwork paintings on canvas installed on a white wall in artist Karina Bania's studio.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.

I usually start the day with the business of artreturning emails, checking on social media responding to new opportunities. Then I begin where I left off, revisiting paintings. This usually requires some time of just sitting and staring. One of the most interesting things about the artistic process is the amount of not-making-art-time that goes into art-making. As artists, we need to spend time looking, staring, squinting, blurring our eyes, standing back, walking in, in order to help us visualize and see what we are creating. This still, contemplative time is essential to the process and can’t be rushed, even in moments when I feel like I’m not getting anything done.

When painting, I usually work in a series, somewhere from three to five pieces at a time. This practice really helps me focus my work. Most weeks, I have a commission that I am working on which is outside the series. That requires communicating with the client and getting my head into the specifics of the piece. When I begin a painting, I try and clear my mind. Ideas come to the surface when my mind is free and I give them space to settle. I usually begin to make strokes on the canvas. I try not to be precious or overly precise, but as free as possible. I know that much of what I do at this point will be covered up, it is only the foundation of the painting. As I continue to work through the painting, I let my feelings move me. I step back for perspective and spend time just looking at the piece feeling my way into what to do next. Sometimes a painting doesn’t feel complete until one small stroke is added. Something that no one necessarily notices, but for me brings a sense of balance and completion.

What necessities do you require when making your art?

Above all else, solitude. I need silence and time alone to think. While creating, I am pretty ritualistic. I like the studio warm and have a few playlists of music that I work to. I listen to the same music over and over so it serves as a familiar backdrop to an unfamiliar place I am going with a painting. It becomes almost meditative. I am not thinking, I am not retracting at all, I am simply receptive, relaxed and able to create.

I have many pinned images and inspiration boards around my studio, which I curate seasonally. The images, words and groupings serve as color and mood inspiration. When I look at the images, I see them in a very abstract way. I look at the colors, the lines, the shapes and layout. I feel the images, looking for what is hidden.

As artists, we need to spend time looking, staring, squinting, blurring our eyes, standing back, walking in, in order to help us visualize and see what we are creating.

Karina Bania

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

The most difficult part of the artistic process for me is getting through the periods of feeling blocked or like nothing is working or turning out right. It is scary to experience the gap between my ideas and the quality of what I am able to create in the moment. But I know the only way to close that gap is to keep working, so I continue on, reassuring myself that nothing is permanent. Everything can be painted over and something good always comes from the process of creating. There is an instant relationship that happens when you’re trying to figure something out. You are present with the work. You are communing. Sometimes you’re not in sync, but if you keep talking and working, eventually you figure it out.

The other thing I do when inspiration runs dry or I feel stuck is to search out something new. Sometimes bringing a plant into my studio inspires me. I have a collection of cactus and their physical presence inspires me and shapes my work. Other ways I jumpstart creativity are going to a museum, taking a walk in nature, or driving to a place that I have never been. Seeing fresh landscapes, ideas, and new things are the best way to get re-inspired.

How do you incorporate chance in your creative process?

Each painting I create begins as a field of space from which an environment arises. With every mark, I move my way further into the painting, wandering its landscape and developing a sense of connection with it. Working from intuition, response, and presence, the painting begins to take shape. I am following a thread of movements that lead me to the next one. Chance enters in when I break that thread, which I always do. There comes a moment in every piece where I do something erratic, something that may ruin what I have been working on. I do this because of chance. Chance is spontaneity, chance is pushing my work and seeing what will happen, chance is making my work come alive.

Artist Karina Bania blurred and standing in front of her gestural paintings.
In-progress colorful, gestural brushwork paintings in artist Karina Bania's studio.

How important is spontaneity in your art?

Spontaneity, like chance, is important to my process. Foremost, it means that I am in the moment, out of my head, and in the art. I am open and receptive to something unplanned happening, which is when my best work is done. A lot of times, I have an idea for a painting in my head and can visualize it. When I go to create it, rarely am I able because of spontaneity. I make a mark and it leads me to want to make another. An unplanned one. But I follow, because the process in front of me is more important than an outcome I have in my mind. I’m bringing a painting to life in the moment, spontaneously creating something from nothing.

Do you find that your location strongly influences the direction of your work?

Yes. I have always been very sensitive and tuned into the energy of a place. I am lucky to have a studio in my home where I am surrounded by nature and quiet with views of mountains and my pool. These two elements, represented by line or color, are always reoccurring in my work. I also spend a lot of time in our home in Baja, Mexico. This is where I usually feel most creative. There, we live on the sea. We walk the cliffs and miles of empty beaches, see the beauty in the simple cobblestone roads and thatched roof structures. The energy and movement of life is slow and easy to see the stillness behind it.

I am following a thread of movements that lead me to the next one. Chance enters in when I break that thread, which I always do.

Karina Bania

What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?

My paintings speak to the spaces we occupy. Every landscape, interaction and conversation rises from a field of space. By that I mean the emptiness and stillness behind everything. When this space is acted upon, a conversation ensues between emptiness and fullness, stillness and movement, energy and objects. The play between these forces shape the visible and invisible landscape of place and connection. The lines of mountain, echoes of past conversations, movements of the sea, a streak of light on a corner, all find their way into my work. I pay attention to the objects in life, but also represent the space from which they come.

How do you choose your materials?

I am always trying new materials, tools and techniques in order to find the unexpected. I love the freedom of experimenting, where accidents become new ideas. Mixing different mediums and working on unprimed canvas allows the material to absorb the paint, dye and pastels in interesting ways. I also love translating paintings onto linens that become tablecloths and napkins, which bring art into everyday objects.

Abstract, black and white floral paintings installed on a white wall next to a glass door in artist Karina Bania's studio.
Artist Karina Bania crouched below two black and white abstract floral paintings in her studio.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

Over the past few years, I have taken more risk with my work. I have experimented working on different surfaces and have incorporated materials such a pigments and dyes into my art. As the idea behind what I am creating has become clearer to me, my work requires less painting to convey it. Whether I am working on a landscape or more abstract piece, my practice has become more minimal, with pared down shapes, marks and lines.

I believe that any discipline that we pursue becomes a way of seeing and understanding ourselves. Through the process of creating, I am able to develop my craft, learn to work through obstacles, and see what patterns emerge. The process of asking questions, understanding my art, and distilling how I leave my mark in the world is not only how I continue to grow as an artist, but how I grow as a person.

Do you have a guiding quote or words of wisdom that you live by?

I try and live my life remembering this "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." Time passes so quickly, so I try to remember to take the time every day to slow down and be present in the moment. At the end of the day, I ask myself, did I create? did I laugh? and did I do one thing that I always dream about doing? I really believe in trying to live your dreams a little bit every day.

Post updated May 9, 2024.