Art Beat: From Jewelry Into Paint | WMUK

Art Beat: From Jewelry Into Paint

Apr 22, 2021

The Nest, a mixed-media piece by Alexa Karabin
Credit Courtesy of the artist

Alexa Karabin doesn’t buy tubes of paint at the art store for her unique paintings. She makes her own pigments – and not out of the usual materials.


Karabin incorporates all kinds of found materials from nature in her paints, often from items she finds in the woods around her home. But the most unusual materials come from her attachment to a special person in her life: her grandmother Rose.

“I was really, really close to my grandmother,” Karabin says. “She had a fascinating history. She was born in Turkey during the Armenian genocide. She was Armenian. She came to the United States in 1920. She was just one of the best humans I’ve ever met. I was enthralled with her history, because the Armenian genocide was denied for many decades and it haunted her people because they came from such a terrible situation, and to be told that it didn’t happen - it was very haunting.”

Photosynthesis, a mixed-media piece by Alexa Karabin
Credit Courtesy of the artist

When Karabin’s grandmother passed, one of her granddaughter’s inheritances was a treasure trove of her antique jewelry. Most of it was considered costume jewelry. Karabin kept a few pieces to wear but also realized that she could immortalize her grandmother by crushing some of the pieces and turning them into pigments for her art.

“I had this epiphany,” she says. “I started looking at it as a metaphor, crushing the jewelry like we crush nature and how we destroy nature, and then reassembling it.”

Karabin uses the pigments she creates using that and other materials she finds in nature in her art pieces depicting insects, small animals. Adding gold leaf, her work often sparkles and catches light, iridescent and bright with color. Frequent themes include natural history, historical occurrence, memory, and cycles. She is also known for her graphic design and silkscreen prints on clothing. Karabin sells her artwork as well as some of the pigments she creates from natural materials. She also offers an apprenticeship program.

Karabin studied print media and painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and her work has been exhibited internationally.

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