Artist's paintings appear in international exhibit
BY JACQUELYN LEWIS, The Island Packet
Published Friday, December 16, 2005
Peter Karis is a soft-spoken man with introspective eyes behind a pair of thick-rimmed glasses.
But the paintings Karis creates in his Hilton Head Plantation studio are sharp contrasts to his reserved nature -- bold
acrylics in intrepid colors that swirl and dance and seem to jump off the page.
"I just try to create an emotion to leave with the viewer," says Karis, who paints mostly abstract figures he
describes as impressionistic.
Karis, 63, has exhibited work across the United States and in Europe. Three of his paintings were on display in Florence,
Italy, last week, in the fifth annual International Biennial of Contemporary Art.
Karis says being part of the biennial is an honor because the Italian government organizes the exhibition. The United Nations
also recognizes the exhibition as an official partner of its "Dialogue Among Civilizations" program because it features
work from an array of artists from different cultures. This year's biennial highlighted 891 artists from 72 countries.
Artists must be nominated by an international jury of art historians and critics to be in the show, and Karis says he was
surprised to receive the phone call last spring inviting him to submit work. A member of the selection panel found Karis' Web
site and was impressed by his work, Karis says.
"I never would have guessed," he says of being selected. "It feels good."
Although Karis might not have pictured his paintings being part of the biennial in Florence, he says he always has known he'd
be an artist.
He grew up in New Jersey, and, he says, even as a young child he was fascinated with drawing people.
He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in painting from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. But back then, Karis says, he
was idealistic about a career in art. He pictured himself painting for a living.
"I didn't know much about it," Karis recalls. "I didn't know you couldn't make a living as an artist."
When he entered the "real world," Karis says, he realized he'd have to do something else to earn a decent salary,
so he got a job in the art department of an advertising agency.
"That was like a natural transition," he says.
After five years, Karis decided to open his own advertising agency, Karis Advertising and Design, in Cleveland, Ohio. He ran
the agency for 30 years before closing the business to retire and focus on fine art full time.
However, Karis says, he painted throughout his advertising career, and Canadian singer Ian Thomas chose one of Karis'
paintings for the cover of his 1988 album, "Levity." The album won a Juno Award (considered equivalent to the United
States' Grammy Awards) from the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for its cover design that year.
Karis moved to Hilton Head Island about two and a half years ago with his wife of 13 years, Maggie, and their two children,
Nicholas and Marina.
He says he spends his time here focusing on painting in his small home studio, surrounded by views of the Port Royal Sound.
His large paintings dot the walls of the house.
Karis says he paints all the works from his imagination, and their meanings change over time, in sync with life's transitions.
He says he hopes the paintings have the same enduring quality for others -- whether they are viewers who'll remember his work
from this year's International Biennial of Contemporary Art or those who have his paintings hanging in their houses.
"I like the moment to be timeless," Karis says. "If someone has one of my pieces, it will mean something else
to them five years from now."