Art as a lengthy process

When Karp paints, he believes he does not create the work itself but rather serves as a medium to facilitate the image into life.

Roy Karp alongside his paintings (photo credit: JACK BROOK)
Roy Karp alongside his paintings
(photo credit: JACK BROOK)
Butterflies flicker and glint, red apples shimmer in the light, a woman walks her stroller through a park, and King David strums his harp in the heavens amid the angels. These are a few of the images among the collected paintings of artist Roy Karp’s life, now on display at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) in his first solo exhibition in Israel.
Karp defies singular categorization as a painter, choosing instead to embody a diversity of styles. Some of his works are derived from the neat blocks of linocut printing or the glowing sheen of glazing, while others take on the playfulness of rococo or the vivid ephemerality of oil.
“In a normal gallery, what they want is for the artist to present very similar sorts of paintings, with similar style and subject matter,” says Karp, who taught art at a secondary school in Melbourne, Australia, for 38 years before making aliya with his wife, Chana, in 2008. “But when I want to do a painting, I don’t see it necessarily as a particular style; I see the way it should be presented, the style and the material used.”
Many of his more abstract paintings take on a distinctly religious tone, such as his largest work on display, Kaddosh, Kaddosh, Kaddosh, a three-paneled vertical oil canvas with a yellow tint, illustrating the three layers of ascension into heaven. In Kaddosh, angels stand rank and file, facing a figure resembling Moses as he blows into a horn, while beneath him souls gather to be drawn upwards.
However, Karp also finds resonance in everyday life, evident in Butterflies, a linocut print imbued with flecks of metal to add a glint that will occasionally catch the eye. Linocut is one of Karp’s specialties, requiring a painstaking process for each canvas. The printing block – usually linoleum or wood – must be engraved and then, through a complicated technique known as “registration,” the color is added to the block and pressed into the canvas, which is left to dry for a few days. Karp likes to point out that while each linocut print comes from the same block, it is not a copy but an original work in its own right.
Karp’s meticulous attention to symbolism and detail is revealed through a careful examination of each painting, from the color and texture of the canvas he uses to the style of art. When he paints, he believes he does not create the work itself but rather serves as a medium to facilitate the image into life.
There is something else about the exhibition as well, a quality to the images that is not immediately revealed but lies hidden behind each piece. In essence, the paintings reflect the quiet passion and perseverance of a man who, despite the rigors of providing for four children, still managed to find time throughout his life to capture the beauty of the world on canvas.
According to his son Rafi, Karp painted for only an hour or two most nights, so a painting would often take months, even years, to complete. But Karp always put the family first – he would even sell his paintings to the orthodontist to pay for his children’s dental work.
“I used to love going into his studio at night and have him explain what he was working on,” says Rafi. “He was always so patient. Now when I visit him, the first thing I do is to go in and see what he’s working on. [The gallery] is so diverse because he was willing to experiment and push himself.”
The exhibition will run through August 31 at the AACI – Dr. Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center, 37 Pierre Koenig Street, Talpiot. To learn more about Roy Karp: