Colorist of the Carolinas
The lush, ethereal works of Karen Weihs reflect the painter’s long-standing interest in abstraction, intuition and emotion. Though it feels as if the works might be from any place and time, they are as much influenced by her surroundings as the universal principles that guide her. Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Karen and husband Chris now live on a charming 47-acre property in Cashiers, North Carolina. She has travelled widely, gathering inspiration from art centers in France and Italy, but it is among the beautiful natural landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains that she feels most at home. Exhibiting in galleries along the East coast, Weihs pays homage to her surroundings with her self-chosen moniker: “The Colorist of the Carolinas.”
Throughout her career, Weihs has been a graphic designer, restaurant co-owner and art teacher, among other vocations. However, after she and Chris relocated to Cashiers from Charleston, her one true passion — painting — drew her to the vibrant art scene of downtown Asheville. “I was absolutely enthralled with what the River Arts District was doing,” she says. “I kept meeting all of these people over there and I thought, this is amazing. I wanted to be a part of it.” She began exhibiting in the River Arts District adjacent to downtown Asheville, taking a shared studio space as a counterpart to her home studio in Cashiers.
The community of artists and art-lovers that quickly gravitated to her work offered her a glimpse into Asheville’s cosmopolitan character. “I enjoyed the people that would come in from all over the nation,” she says. “My favorite question to ask people was, what attracted you to Asheville and how did you find it? Often the answer was the beauty, the fact that it’s smaller and so accessible, and the culture.” After a number of years here, it’s clear that she is not only enjoying the culture, but offering her own distinctive contributions to it. She traveled with the Asheville Art Museum to Cuba, bringing her visions of the island nation back to the Carolinas as new subject matter to “deconstruct and simplify,” she says, in reference to the techniques that are her trademark.
Weihs’s offerings to the Asheville region are not always a solo effort: she offers populars workshops alongside her husband. Chris, a European-trained chef with decades of restaurant ownership experience, opened his first restaurant with Karen in 1976, “when there were only three in downtown Charleston,” she notes. The recent surge of interest in Asheville’s fine dining landscape reminds her of what happened to Charleston’s restaurant scene, where ”there are now hundreds of restaurants!,” she says with a laugh. Their varied background has allowed the two to hone in on what people truly seek in culinary and aesthetic experiences. Working side by side, these custom classes are designed to meet the unique desires of their participants. “We just establish what people want,” she says. “What people want, we do.”
This exploratory and relaxed style may be why she and Chris have so many clients who return, year after year, for another cooking and painting experience. In this, the couple exemplifies not only the best of area’s art and food scene, but the characteristic warmth and hospitality of the Carolinas. Though she’s a Charleston native with a global outlook, Karen Weihs is truly a local gem.