Paintings of People in Contemporary Realism

Karen Yee lives in El Segundo, California with her husband and two daughters. She was born into an artistic environment and throughout her life her modes of creative expression have taken many different forms.

She is a prolific and versatile painter in the style of Contemporary Realism. She paints people in their indigenous apparel and natural environment with awe-inspiring accuracy and an air of mystery. Her range of subjects is impressive and includes those in the realms of Judaica, Asia, and Music. She has even created a series of Pirate paintings. In addition to her figurative paintings Karen Yee has added a delectable series of still life to her outstanding repertoire.

Karen Yee

Karen Yee, Chinese Bride, (from the Asian Influenced Paintings series), acrylic on canvas, 24” x 20”.

However, it is painting people that preoccupies the artist’s current creative imagination. What is so remarkable about her art is her masterful ability to capture the emotion, character and personality of her subjects. With technical prowess she depicts every detail and nuance of light, shadow, and texture. Each subject is celebrated as a unique individual worthy of our attention and each series as a whole reveals a compelling story.

For example, her iconic painting Chinese Bride, from her “Asian Influenced Paintings” series, is an exquisite portrayal of a young lady on her wedding day. Her delicate features, modest pose, and the decorative details that adorn her wedding gown evoke the elements of the quintessential classic Chinese culture.

Karen Yee

Karen Yee, Fight Like A Girl, acrylic on canvas, 20″ x 16″.

The impetus that propelled Karen to explore her long held desire to paint may surprise you. It occurred after her cataclysmic event dealing with and surviving cancer in 2003. She was motivated to communicate an important message through painting.

One example, her self-portrait painting “Fight Like A Girl”, is a poignant painting that won the First Place Cash Award in the Manhattan Arts International “Celebrate The Healing Power of Art” 2014 juried competition. The juror was Lilly Wei, leading New York based international curator and art critic for Art in America and ARTnews magazines, among others. In this competition Karen also won a Manhattan Arts International Featured Artist Award.

When asked about the painting “Fight Like A Girl” the artist explains, “I was determined to battle the cancer and kick it to the curb. I wanted to portray that emotion in a self-portrait. Others have responded to the image positively, telling me it has inspired them in their fight too.”

Karen Yee

Karen Yee, Phoenix Crown, (from the Masked series), acrylic on canvas, 40” x 30”.

Karen Yee has received many awards in juried exhibitions including the Chairman’s Choice Award in the 2014 American Salon of Fine Art exhibition and the NOAPS Online International Fall 2013 exhibition.

Her art work has been featured in American Art Collector Magazine, and interviewed and featured in a blog for International Women’s Day on

I recently had the opportunity to ask Karen Yee a few questions about her art.

RP: Karen, when did you first become interested in art and why?

KY: I have always been interested in art. My mother painted as a hobby when I was young, and I remember being fascinated watching her, and wanting to try. I took an art class both in high school, and then again in college. But I balked at the limitations in instruction. I didn’t like being told what to create, wanting to be free of confinements to do it myself, and follow my own instincts.

RP: I’m glad you pursued your natural talent and instincts. Who or what most influences your work?

KY: I have always been attracted to and admire traditional and representational artwork. Some of my favorite artists are Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Norman Rockwell, but there are really too many to name.

Karen Yee

Karen Yee, Russian Traditional (from the Masked series), acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 30″.

RP: Your art is museum quality and every series of yours opens a doorway into the essence, personality and inner spirit of your subjects. What current painting or art project are you working on?

KY: I am currently working on a “Masked” series. I really enjoy painting portraits of people in costume, and a mask adds a great sense of mystery and charm to the composition.

RP: What is it about painting people in costumes and masks that intrigues you?

KY: I like painting people in costume, and especially with a mask, because I have found that when a person covers themselves in a costume, they feel more free to let their true personality show, and I think that comes through in the portrait. Sometimes, the more elaborate the costume, the more they reveal about themselves.

RP: Karen, are there any other contemporary artists who have inspired you?

KY: One artist that has had a huge impact on me and my artwork is my mentor and favorite living artist, Paul Mellender. I noticed his artwork years ago on MySpace, and was captivated. His artwork is so rich, full of life and bewitching. It draws the viewer in and holds them spellbound. I want to paint like that!

Karen Yee

Karen Yee, Day of the Dead Tima (from the Masked series), 20” x 16”.

RP: Karen, your new painting Day of the Dead Tima is captivating. Can you tell us about this painting?

KY: I really enjoyed painting Tima because even though it is a traditional Day of the Dead themed portrait, I think it has a contemporary edge to it. It also reflects the component of her Asian heritage, and her own unique individuality.

RP: Your creative passion and connection to your subjects shine through your paintings. What is the greatest reward you receive from being an artist?

KY: The greatest rewards I get from painting is the satisfaction in producing something I am proud of. A while ago, I was unable to paint temporarily. When I resumed, I realized how much fulfillment I get just from the process. It is like therapy for me. I live truly in the moment, focusing only on what I am doing, and not thinking about anything else. This is truly a form of bliss. Of course, the positive responses and feedback I get from viewers of my artwork is also validating and rewarding for me. I love it when a person views my art, and sees the same things I do. It reminds me we all share the same world.

RP: You deserve every positive response you receive. Where can we view your art? What upcoming exhibition(s) do you have scheduled?

KY: I am participating in the upcoming “Women Painting Women” exhibition at the Principle Gallery in Charleston, SC. It is a national juried show where out of 743 international submissions 86 paintings by 73 artists will be displayed. The dates for the exhibit are September 5 through November 11, 2014.

To view more paintings by Karen Yee visit her website at

To read the Luxe Beat Magazine version of this article click on the title Artist Karen Yee Captures The Essence Of Her Subjects