Karen Banker is taking her artistic talent overseas.
Banker is the featured artist in an international show, "Karen Banker USA," which opened Feb. 11 and runs until March 2 at the Colorida Galeria de Arte in Lisbon, Portugal. The 49-year-old has shown off her award-winning work across the United States, but this will be her first international exhibit representing America abroad.
"This is a big jump for me," said Banker. "I keep asking other artists, 'Have you done anything internationally? Is there something I can learn from you?' I have met a couple, but very few have exhibited their work on an international level. I feel very honored and privileged to be in that small select group because I know that the dream is to get into a gallery for some artists."
Jose Robert Moreira, director of the gallery, contacted Banker after finding her work online, according to a news release. Gallery staff carefully studied her work, full of vibrant colors and raw emotion, and felt it would appeal to their clients, the news release said. When Moreira contacted Banker for the solo exhibit invitation in August, Banker thought someone had called a wrong number.
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"I was speechless when I heard Mr. Moreira, partially because I don't speak a word of Portuguese, but mostly because I was so excited about having the opportunity to have my work recognized on a global scale, especially in Europe, where so much great art exists," Banker said in a news release.
The news release said that Moreira felt Banker's work made him "contemplate and ponder."
"Her contrast of colors has a determinative value for the reading of the work," said Moreira. "The forms are inexact with a fast mix of colors that join and then explode with depth, allowing us to explore the contradictions of anguish and joy."
Working primarily in acrylics and mixed media, Banker had planned to make new work for the exhibit. Her work usually looks at the resilience of the human spirit during times of adversity, economic hardship and illness. Banker later found out the pieces she had planned to make for the exhibit were too big to ship to Portugal, so instead, she sent 10 pieces of finished work.
Among those pieces is "Power," Banker's favorite piece, saturated with bold, red colors to turn heads.
"The power to change the world begins with the power to be heard so if it didn't grab your attention, the painting itself has failed," she said. "If it stops you in your tracks, then basically, it's being heard. With so much going on in the world right now, change is needed for so many different people and situations. Everybody's talking and nobody's listening."
Born in Wisconsin, Banker grew up in a family of art and medicine, but she never fit into that mold. In seventh grade, Banker won first place in a school Christmas art contest by painting an altered rendition of A.M. Willard's "The Spirit of '76." In her painting, she replaced the middle drummer with Santa Claus.
In an effort to follow her family's footsteps, Banker pursued a science degree at the University of Toledo in Ohio. Feeling unfulfilled, Banker changed her career path by becoming the first student to be accepted into Toledo University's self-designed major program. She developed her own curriculum involving art, humanities, advanced math and science and economics and graduated in 1986.
"I wish more students were allowed to do that," said Banker. "We all have gifts as individuals, as human beings, and gosh, if we could just maximize that based on where our passion and skill intercepts, we'd be geniuses."
After graduation, Banker entered the corporate workforce but continued to pursue art. She managed workers at a manufacturing company, started a magazine publishing company and was tgeneral manager of the Dayton Dynamos, a professional soccer franchise in Ohio. In the late 1990s, Banker got tired of the cold Ohio weather, threw a dart on a map and moved to the Charlotte area with nothing but her art supplies.
She went to Florida, but later returned to North Carolina when her husband, Bruce, 55, got a job in Lincolnton. The couple has lived in Pumpkin Center, about seven miles west of Lake Norman, for six years.
Her greatest fulfillment is still her art. "That is, without a doubt, what I love to do," said Banker.