Karen Steen started her professional art career as an editorial illustrator. She made scores of tiny paintings published in magazines and books, that provided visual information about scientific subjects related to health, well-being and medicine. In response to the constraints of commercial illustration, Karen entered into a phase of exploration during which she studied various printmaking techniques and unconventional uses of materials. The quest to refine her personal expression, led her to pursue an MFA degree, which she completed in 2007 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. She also has Bachelors degrees in Illustration, earned in 1988 at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and in Business, earned in 1978 at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Karen relishes the challenge of combining the technical and conceptual skills she developed as an illustrator with the intuitive approach of a fine artist.
Artistic influences include Lee Bontecou, for her singular vision and masterful use of materials, Elizabeth Murray for blurring the line between picture and object, and for making work that is both serious and playful, and Aurora Robson, for her inventive hanging sculptures, inspired by organic forms and made from cast-off plastic bottles.
Steen has won numerous awards and has exhibited in Southern California, Philadelphia, New York City, and various locations in the mid-Atlantic region. She was an award winner in the prestigious exhibition, Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2010, at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, and won the Betsy Meyer Memorial Award for Experimental Art in 2009. She is working on a commission for the Lehigh Valley Health Network through a grant from the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation.
Karen's artistic life includes a commitment to art education. She is a drawing instructor at Penn State Lehigh Valley, held an artist residency for the Allentown Art Museum Education Outreach program and is currently serving an artist residency for Palmer Elementary School in Easton, Pennsylvania. She has taught numerous classes for kids of all ages through the Banana Factory's Art and Education programs in Bethlehem. She also works as Artist-in-Residence at St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem. The program, funded by the Livestrong Foundation, enables artists to help cancer patients with creative projects to aid in their well-being and healing.
Karen is a Southern California native. She moved with her husband and three daughters to the east coast 6 years ago. She now lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and loves working in her studio at the Banana Factory.