Local artist mixes watercolor, oil and irony

Have you ever seen beautiful pollution? Karen Hackenberg paints gorgeous – and ironic -- images of pollution and nature in a new art show currently displayed in the 1000 Building. The show's title, "Strand," is an Old English word for "beach," and all of her 14 paintings utilize natural beach scenery as the backdrop for one single item of debris: plastic toy animals, food products or consumer product packaging, washed ashore.

Hackenberg uses oil and gouache to give the paintings a hyper-realistic feel. They look almost like photographs.

Her sense of irony is evident in all of her paintings. One showcases a washed-up Starbucks cup, is titled "Mermaid." Another, "Red Tide," features an abandoned container of Tide laundry soap. Red tide occurs with the overpopulation of microorganisms, which can produce toxins harmful to our waters. Yet, Hackenberg has placed the bottle so it doesn't appear harmful; it actually looks pretty. In "Mighty Migration," she displays a toy dinosaur standing on the beach. On the dinosaur's left wing is the word "CHINA," indicating the toy's birthplace. This litter has travelled halfway around the world to land on local shores.

Hackenberg uses many earth tones and cool colors in her paintings. An array of light and bright blues, whites, grays, browns and greens characterize the beach images. Warmer colors are used for the paintings' inanimate subjects.

The overall theme is complex, and can be viewed in many ways. Is Hackenberg glamorizing pollution by putting images of consumer products against the beach background, or is she putting the pollution right in our face by showing that these things don't belong here? Are her paintings meant to condemn pollution, or acknowledge its potential beauty?

Her works look to be inspired by Ralph Goings, who is known for painting hyperrealistic images. He paints food products in their natural settings; for example, salt and pepper on the table at a diner. Like Goings, Hackenberg's paintings are wildly realistic and seem very real.
Hackenberg received her BFA degree in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to the Pacific Northwest. She now lives and works near Port Townsend. Her show will be up in the SCC art gallery until March 6.


Amy Shook, Contributing Writer
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Local artist Karen Hackenberg holds up the figurine, found on the beach, that inspired her painting, "Mighty Migration."


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