In my paintings the subjects are iconic in who they are or what they represent. However, the real story is what is revealed within the painting. I use representational symbols to create scenes within paintings to tell the story of the subject. Like a puzzle, the closer you look, the more symbols you will find.
Audrey Hepburn, 60" x 80"
As an actress Audrey Hepburn has won every major award. But because of her passion for humanitarian work and as an ambassador for UNICEF I have created symbols of children to represent those that she helped save throughout the world.
Marilyn Monroe with Red, 56" x 56"
In keeping with her sex goddess persona I have painted symbols of Marilyn's lips as well as other iconic images of her life.
Andy Warhol, 80" x 60"
As a pioneer in Pop Art Andy Warhol became one of the most renowned and controversial artist of the last century. This portrait is made up of Soup cans and other symbols of his life.
Jackie O, 60" x 80"
As first lady, Jackie was well respected and added a sense of class and style to the White House and its image around the world. The background symbols in this painting are well known photographed images of the "Jackie Look”.
Lady Liberty, 64" x 52"
This colossal neoclassical sculpture is a beacon of freedom and hope throughout the world. The Statue of Liberty is made up of the Liberty Shield and Eiffel Tower symbols.
Sophia Loren, 60" x 80"
An actress and a fashion icon that never forgot her roots. This painting is made up of symbols of Sophia Loren's life.
Einstein's Table of Elements, 67" x 87"
Based on the Periodic Table of Elements, Einstein's portrait is made up of his mathematical equations and famous quotes within small squares.
Lauren Bacall "The Look", 60" x 80"
“The Look”. In her lifetime she won every major acting award for movie and theater. Her star on Hollywood Boulevard is the background for this painting.
ELVIS, 80" x 60"
The King of Rock and Roll became the best selling solo artist in history and made over 30 movies. He is forever remembered in his white suit and cape. The background symbols are images of Elvis entertaining.
Grace Kelly, 60" x 80"
A movie star that grew into a legend when she became the princes of Monaco. Symbols of Grace Kelly's image make up the background to this painting.
Satchmo, 67" x 87"
Satchmo, the “Ambassador of Jazz” is made up of trumpets as a background. His nickname is short for Satchelmouth (describing his embouchure).
Elizabeth Taylor, 44" x 56"
A legend at an early age Elizabeth Taylor turned a movie career into a business and a humanitarian foundation. She remained a popular public figure for the rest of her life.
Winning, 67" x 87"
Paul Newman's character and his desire to help those in need is without question. I chose a background consisting of three symbols of his life; the movie camera, race cars and salad dressing bottles.
Brigitte Bardot, 60" x 80"
One of the most well known sex symbols of her generation, Brigitte Bardot dedicated her fame to promote animal rights that are symbolized in this painting.
The Greatest, 67" x 87"
"Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see”. These rhymes with an unorthodox fighting technique made Muhammad Ali a sports celebrity. His battles outside of the ring made him an icon. Butterfly’s and Bee’s are symbolized in this painting.
Coppertone Girl, 56" x 44"
As a child these billboard advertisements were everywhere and they symbolized that summer has arrived. As an adult I can still remember the lotion smell. The background symbols include famous ladies from Coppertone advertising. Can you find Jodie Foster & Annette Funicello?
Sun Worship, 56" x 44"
Tanning and other bad habits. While researching for the painting Coppertone Girl I came across this photo of a sun worshiper. I just had to paint this with a similar sun burst symbol.
Grand Central, 52" x 56"
A majestic landmark that transformed New York City. The well known information clock is the background symbol to this painting.
Bald Eagle, 56" x 44"
The symbols are made up of US coins featuring the Bald Eagle.
Buffalo, 56" x 44"
Indian Head Nickels make up the background symbols while other symbols tell the story of how extinction almost ended the Buffalo.
Marilyn Monroe with green lips, 80" x 60"
Looking into the painting you will discover reference of her movies and outlines of her awards. An even closer look will reveal several pictures of her including silhouettes of her notorious dress blowing in the wind.
Marilyn, 44" x 56"
Nothing Is Impossible, 44" x 56"
I Believe In Pink, 44" x 56"
Audrey, 44" x 56"
Jackie O, 56" x 56"
Big Sur, 44" x 56"
I have taken my symbols to landscapes. This painting is filled with symbols relevant to California's coast.
Go Steelers, Oil on canvas, 60" x 60"
Wildcat Nation, 54" x 65"
Northwestern University Athletics
As an artist I started out painting land and seascapes until I discovered portraiture. Over a period of several years, while my portrait paintings matured, I experimented with incorporating symbols into my art. I soon began to develop a painting style with symbols that has become my own.
While painting portraits it became clear to me that developing a relationship with the subject was an important part of the process in making a painting successful. I found that the more I learned about the subject the better my finished work became. Coincidentally, as I began to experiment with symbols I also discovered that I was able to share my relationship and understanding of the subject with the audience. As a result each painting has their own unique story to tell. I have created this through research and personal experience with each piece.
My use of symbols began while studying at Yale University. Later, my ability to understand how to utilize color in this form was forged with my experience as a young boy working at my father's color separation printing company. The combination of these experiences gave me the foundation to create very complex and very realistic paintings at the same time.
In my paintings the subjects are iconic in who they are or what they represent and, since our culture has become so absorbed in celebrities, they are often the focus of my work. As the audience studies the painting and its symbols a story unfolds like a puzzle.
A visitor to Karl Soderlund’s studio is likely to be awestruck by his over seven-foot-high oil paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, Audrey Hepburn and Albert Einstein, among others.
In 2010, these paintings formed the basis for his exhibition at the National Arts Club in New York City, entitled Iconic Obsessions. The title points to the habit of elevating famous people to superhuman status. They become gods in our minds; however, they are also commodities, in that reproductions of these people are as venerated as any religious icon. Perhaps it is our obsession with the lives of such icons, so often reflected in the vanity magazines and celebrity television shows, that Soderlund is masterfully revealing through his oil paintings.
For Soderlund, however, the portrait is a point of departure. He enjoys going beyond it to include references to personal history that is ultimately revealed in the painting. His paintings become visual biographies of the triumphs and hardships of their subjects. For instance, Muhammad Ali’s portrait includes the Olympic gold medal that he angrily threw into the Ohio River after an encounter with white racists, and butterflies and bees reflecting Ali’s famous comment, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Soderlund enjoys watching viewers identify the symbols through out his paintings, and considers it a personal triumph to have successfully combined the elements into a holistic visual experience. Marilyn Monroe is represented by her familiar iconic stance over a subway grate with her white dress swirling up around her and champagne glasses nestled throughout. Audrey Hepburn has intricate images of children articulating her form; a tondo of a woman holding a child refers to her work as UNICEF’s spokesperson. For Paul Newman there are racecars and racing helmets, as well as images of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and his treasured performing awards.
Whatever his subject, Karl Soderlund is obsessed by portraiture. His signature style of embedding associated images throughout the canvas continues his subjects’ personal stories. Perhaps they would be complete as portraits themselves. For Soderlund, however, that is just the beginning. His Iconic Obsessions resonate as masterfully painted portraits. As Soderlund states, these icons “withstand the test of time.” Laura Einstein, Venu Magazine