Karen Lynn Sanchez was looking forward to showing her latest paintings. Unfortunately, she died before the exhibition, but her art and life will be celebrated with a posthumous show, which opens at The Art Studio, Inc., Feb. 4.
Sanchez had two previous shows at The Studio, but director Greg Busceme said Sanchez was prolific and always had new work she wanted to show.
“She called me every so often, about every five or six years and says, ‘I have work,’” Busceme said. “And I go see what she wants because it’s always amazing, and we love her stuff. I’m her biggest fan. So, that’s why you see her show up three times in exhibitions, (where) a lot of people never get one.”
Her last show was in 2009 after Sanchez had contracted axonal neuropathy, a disease that affects the nervous system, which left her unable to walk and in constant pain. Recently, she had also suffered a stroke which left her blind in one eye.
But that did not reduce her output, her friend Cathy Atkinson said.
“Her work to me is amazing, not considering her disabilities or anything like that,” Atkinson said. “Considering her disabilities, it’s doubly amazing. Especially her sight and (her career), she worked with her fingers or arms or forearms or elbows, whatever. She was your typical starving artist, most definitely, and she painted every day — it was just her routine.”
“She was that kind of artist — she just wanted to produce,” Busceme said.
Artist Annie Orchard was friends with Sanchez for more than two decades. She said she was attracted to Sanchez at first because she was unashamedly different.
“She had long, frizzy hair and she dressed in paint pants and paint shirt like she always did,” Orchard said. “She wouldn’t talk a whole lot, but when she did, she really had something to say.”
Orchard said Sanchez was so committed to her art that she lived minimally in an almost empty apartment.
“She didn’t want any furniture in there,” Orchard said. “She wanted it wide open to do her art so that she could just focus on that, period. I would try to give her furniture and things like that, and she said no. She didn’t want it. She just wanted to be in that apartment with her canvases and her paints and that’s all she did.”
When I interviewed her in 2009, Sanchez, who also went by Karen Click, her mother’s maiden name, said her work dealt with grief in the way German Expressionist artists were influenced by World War I and the loss of a way of life. Prior to her illness, Click was a housekeeper and laborer. Click’s expressionism reflects the end of that way of life.
She said the paintings she did after her illness were stronger than before.
“Before (the illness), I lived in that particular world and that was taken away,” Sanchez said. “Now I look at the world different.”
Rather than looking at the world as a healthy person, she looks at it as someone — she paused to find the right words — who is disabled, she said.
“I remember Sanchez had a slightly dark sense of humor, which was evident when told me she could no longer drive.”
“They frown upon it, something about not being able to feel your feet,” she said, laughing.
Click acknowledged that there is an element of grief in her work, an anger at the hand she had been dealt. The art allowed her to come to terms with her situation, she said.
Her work was incredibly personal, and the imagery is powerful with an emotional rawness that is clearly visible. The work is abstract but often incorporates figures, often abstracted black silhouettes — Atkinson said she called “Sanchez’s figures “shadow people,” and Sanchez called them “strangers.”
One painting in the show is a vibrant piece with two figures vigorously running or maybe even dancing. They are certainly dynamic and are set against a vivid red background. The edges are blurry, almost as they are viewed through a summer haze from a distance. One can only speculate that from her wheelchair, Sanchez is remembering past moments — or potential moments that were lost to her.
Orchard said Sanchez believed there was a dark side and a light side to everything.
“She would let the dark side out, there’s a lot of dark in Lynn’s work, but she was also a really light person,” Orchard said. “She had a good sense of humor. People discounted her because she was in a wheelchair and she looked funky. You know, her hair and her clothes were all painted. People discount and how intelligent she was. In fact, they didn’t know. She didn’t reveal it for many people.
“She had integrity. She’d spit out the truth and people couldn’t handle it because they don’t want to hear. She didn’t have a whole lot of friends because of that, but I liked it because I like people who are authentic — and she was an authentic person.”
Busceme said that when she died last fall, her hands were covered in paint, and she had clearly just stepped away from the canvas.
“We have her last painting. It’s very different from everything else,” Busceme said. “But you can see the little finger strokes.”
While Sanchez was well-versed in art, with a degree, Busceme said her work was not derivative and was uniquely her own.
“To me is just an extension of her heart,” Busceme said. “Amazing things. So personal.”
Atkinson said she would like people who see the show to come away with a sense of awe.
“That’s what I feel about her works,” she said. “It’s like magic.”
“Karen Lynn Sanchez: A Posthumous Exhibition” will be on display at The Art Studio, Inc., 720 Franklin in downtown Beaumont, through Feb. 25, with a free reception set for 7-10 p.m., Feb. 4.
For more, visit artstudio.org .
This story first ran on page 1 of the Feb. 4, 2023 edition of the Beaumont Enterprise.