Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Discovering a City in Karen Horne’s Portraits

Karen Horne, “The Order,” oil, 30×24 in.

I confess that I had a lot of preconceived notions of what HORNE Fine Art would be like, many of which would prove true. There were the expected Utah desert landscapes and romantic portrayals of rural life. But what caught me off-guard were the sketches of Salt Lake City, some in pastels and some in oils. I never imagined that a small number of sketches would alter my perception of my evening and my city.

My favorite pieces were the restaurant scenes. The very word “scenes” is an apt description; there is something dramatic about the scripted lines and gestures exchanged between server and guest. Karen Horne’s sketches capture the lighting, the costumes, the anticipation of these interactions. Yet, it is their similarity to Edward Hopper’s work, his psychological drama, that draws me in. In the oil painting, “The Order,” a beam of sunlight casts a spotlight on a single diner, dressed in vivid blue, talking with the server while all other customers fade into the background. This interaction is tiny compared to the space taken up by the stage and setting. Similar to Hopper’s “NightHawks,” the patrons are small compared to the set dressing of the exterior of the diner and surrounding street. But while Hopper’s scene is set to depict loneliness and isolation, Horne’s solitary diner, though surrounded by darkness and a faceless crowd, listens to the server with their whole body. Perhaps these two painters, Hopper and Horne, have each captured the essence of these two cities, New York City versus Salt Lake City, respectively. Portraits of a city, in a way.

While I stood in front of a small oil painting that depicts pedestrians passing by the Capitol Theater (“Back to Live!”) the owners of the gallery talked with other patrons about how the gallery will be closing in September. Conversations of development and gentrification swirled around me as I stared at a timeless painting. Neither the building nor the pedestrians offer any insight into when this moment happened. The people are silhouetted, carefully obscuring any fashions or trends that could date this moment. But the sepia-heavy color scheme gives it a sense of nostalgia: this moment is consigned to memory. Soon this very gallery will be just a memory. And in an instant, the construction-heavy commute I endured to get to this place in time becomes more than just an annoyance, it is a harbinger that the new is always built upon the ruins of the old. That nothing can be gained, without something else being lost. I suppose that New York City no longer looks the way Edward Hopper depicted it 80 years ago, and soon Salt Lake City will be different than the brief moments of time captured by Karen Horne.

Karen Horne, “Back to Live!” oil, 18×12 in.


HORNE Fine Art is closing and now through September is hosting a Moving Sale.

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