Playfulness, movement, and color are overarching themes in Karyn Drum's landscapes - from undulating trees that seem to hula hoop the vines swirling all around to wildly vivid southwestern skies. Currently living and painting in eastern North Carolina, with literally a swamp in her backyard, Drum's bright colors convey her desert southwest childhood where her intense relationship with nature was instilled by fabulous adventurous outdoorsy parents. Camping, hiking, sailing, fishing, trail riding were regular weekend activities as well as visiting State and National Parks whenever possible. Additionally, although most of Drum's childhood was spent in the desert southwest, most Summers included a yearly drive across the country to visit her parent's home in the mountains of North Carolina with its amazing forests and rivers and green, and a family week on the Atlantic Ocean with big sky.
When asked how early she knew she wanted to be an artist, she replies "It was always there, a part of me, I don't remember ever a beginning." Drum's mother recalls Karyn's love for art making as early as 2 years old, perhaps because she was born in Italy where her Officer father was stationed at the time, sight seeing art from a stroller eye view that her world became so visual. Then reinforced by hours traveling in the back of a station wagon, looking out the window as the landscape changed whirling past, and sky watching during cloud season, the storms and desert monsoons that gallop across the vast openness. A look of longing and reverence comes to her eyes and she speaks of star gazing and the milky way out west.
However it happened, Drum was art making from an early age, entering contests and winning prizes for her mostly realistic drawings and paintings. She graduated a year early from High School, anxious to get to art school. At Texas Tech she was fortunate to study under colorful, whimsical, abstract painter, Alan Crockett who taught her "art is life" and introduced her to the writings of Henry Valentine Miller, both of which sparked a journey that continues to this day.
Near the end of her Senior year at Tech, a poster appeared on the wall outside the painting studio: "Located 65 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, East Carolina University's MFA program in painting..." made her decision for graduate school easy; to be close to family and the Ocean, "no brainer!" she says. Faced with the cost of out of state tuition however, Drum was only able to take one painting class, but, she was prolific. She was awarded the Special Talent Award which included a Teaching Assistantship and a tuition waiver. Many shows and awards followed including a one person show, Birdwords, featuring geologic formation symbols with osciligraphs of bird calls superimposed with names such as, "Igneous Intrusion with Three Toed Woodpecker" exhibited at the NCMA. Nature continued to be an integral part of Drum's art although the ocean visits were soon replaced by "swampin", kayaking in the amazing swamps of eastern North Carolina. Overwhelmed by green, claustrophobic from the trees and struggling to adjust to the semi tropical humidity, Drum would return to the desert most Summers maintaining a studio at UT El Paso where she worked on videos. "Shapes in search of a wall" was an escape from the gallery walls she explains: "I was working on big paper, which is something Alan Crockett would do, but instead of staying square and figuring how to hang them inside, I roughed them into shapes, grabbed some duct tape, threw them into my VW convertible and hit the road. I taped them to walls in Juarez, abandoned buildings in the desert and even set them in lawn chairs at the lake." This experimentation continued through graduate school culminating with her thesis show, a 20x20’ installation called "Swamp Wander" where the viewer walked through a brightly painted cardboard forest. Drum titled her written thesis, The Desert turned to Swamp in Three Days, an ode to the drive between the vastly different landscapes.
After graduate school Drum taught Basic Design at UT El Paso. When Summer classes did not fill she decided to take the opportunity to visit her parents who were now living in Germany. While there she found a job as a graphic artist and decided to stay in Europe instead of returning to her teaching position in the states. Drum worked, traveled and painted for the next 2 ˝ years. A teaching position opening at Humboldt State caught her eye, and her dream of living in the redwoods brought her to northern California. Although she did not get the position, she remained in the bay area returning to work as a graphic artist. She met her first husband, was married in the redwoods, and would soon move to more affordable Oregon where she raised her 3 children in the rivers and trees. She continued to paint, exhibit, and was a founding member of The Artback, a group of artists that continue to get together each Summer to paint a mural in the small town of Estacada. She also wrote and illustrated a children’s book, calling it a "vegetable western," Broccoli Bob and the Organic Outlaws, humorously highlighting the struggle to raise her children organically. After 11 years, growing weary of the wet gloomy weather and deteriorating relationship, Drum moved to Asheville, NC to be near family and a familiar spot for her young children. Needing to be on her children’s schedule, she returned to school for her k-12 art teacher certification. An elementary art position brought Drum and her children to Wake county, close to an active downtown Raleigh art scene and vibrant group of art teacher colleagues and art organizations where she entered shows and exhibited regularly.
A new marriage brought Drum and their blended family to Chapel Hill, another active art community where she continued to work and exhibit as her children grew. A mutual love for the swamp and kayaking inspired the couple to purchase a second home on a creek in eastern North Carolina eventually becoming home full time and the inspiration behind her vibrant swamp paintings. Drum calls the swamp her "Giverny" after Monet's garden; but she also calls Tucumcari Mountain (in her childhood home in New Mexico) her Pedernal (which Georgia O'Keeffe painted multiple times) as Drum recently (fall 2018) began a southwest series featuring the Mountain after a Summer visit. Prolific, working on several paintings at once, Drum has her work in multiple venues in the downtown art scene of Washington, NC and is a member of The River Walk Gallery.
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All images are © Karyn Drum