Studio Visit: R.J. Karlstrom, 58, of Savoy

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Studio Visit: R.J. Karlstrom, 58, of Savoy

Q: Describe the work in your new show in the Virginia Theatre lobby.

A: It's an interesting departure from what I've been doing, a little more focused on seascapes. I've always had a fascination with the age of sail and maritime history. I read too many Hornblower books as a kid.

Q: I looked at your Web site. It seems like you had a good career as a graphic and set designer going in Chicago before you moved back here. Why did you leave?

A: I got tired of it. The work was starting to dry up. When I started out it was all optical and now it's all digital. When it was optical, everything was done by hand. You'd have 30 or 40 artists working in a graphic-design office, slaving away. Now you have three or four artists working at computers or even kids in their basements.

Q: Are you doing any graphic-design work now?

A: A do a little for corporations. It's not anything I pursue. I do work for friends who are former clients. I do construction part-time.

Q: When did you come back here?

A: Four or five years ago. I grew up here and graduated from the first Centennial High School, when they called it the Annex. I moved back to spend time with my family before moving to Chattanooga to work for a small design firm. They withdrew their offer before I had a chance to go down there.

I still have friends down there and they have sold a lot of my paintings. I also have some paintings in Asheville, N.C. I call these guys who have my paintings 'representatives.' I give them a cut. They're really just fans with an art interest.

Q: Did you get your BFA in painting and printmaking from the UI?

A: No, Eastern. I think I might have gotten better instruction down there because they didn't have as many grad students. I don't know that to be true, but I like to think it.

Q: What are you doing now?

A: Abstract expressionism. I like it because I like the way the paint moves. Really, I started painting this way because it was kind of an antidote to the representational work I was doing in Chicago for so long.

One of my other main things is wrangling the Monday Evening Life Drawing (MELD) group. We run this kind of figure-drawing class except there are no critiques unless you want it. Everyone will chip in their opinion. So I still do a considerable amount of drawing.

Q: Where does MELD meet?

A: Right now at the McGown Photo Studio on Route 10. We're still looking for a home but he's been pretty gracious about letting us use it.

Q: Do you use oils in your paintings?

A: No, it's all acrylic. I might use oil as an accent.

Q: Are you still using joint compound in your paintings?

A: Yes. You can't really see it because of all the buildup. You can sand it and scrape it. It's getting to be sculptural. The only problem is coloring it. I can tint it but I can't get a lot of color saturation.

Q: Are you represented by any galleries?

A: Not really. The Local Color Gallery in Union Pier, Mich., and Gallery 57 in Highwood might still have some of my paintings. Quite honestly, I prefer having my work in restaurants and coffee houses. The lighting isn't as good but it gets seen by more people than in galleries, and you can get a lot more feedback.

Q: How long have you been working in this studio at the Lincoln Building?

A: For three years. One reason I got a studio here is my dad and my uncle had offices here. My uncle has since passed on. I keep an eye on their offices.

Q: How long will your show be at the Virginia?

A: It will be up to Nov. 1.

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