Caroline Kwas, Painter

Feisty & Focused

With her high intelligence and private school education, Caroline’s family expected her to be a medical doctor. However, while working on her bio-chem major, she added an elective drawing class and, soon, med school dropped from her horizon.  

Caroline’s father didn’t respond favorably to her new artistic aspirations. She was feisty, though, and found a work-around; moving in with her sister and sticking to her vision of pursuing art.

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Three decades later, Caroline is still just as feisty and still sticking to her vision.

Back then, the father of her childhood friend, Nancy, talked with Caroline’s father and helped him see his way to supporting Caroline’s art studies. She then went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and earned an undergraduate degree in Illustration. She went on to earn a graduate degree in Literacy Education. 

For a while on Long Island, Caroline catered food for fishing boats that would go out for weeks at a time. With four or five boats to cook for, she was gainfully employed and poured her creativity into food preparation.

Eventually, she put her degrees to use teaching Reading and English in New York before moving to Florida to teach corrective reading to seventh and eighth graders.  

“They ate me alive,” Caroline says of the middle schoolers. She was an excellent guide and champion for the students who appreciated her attention and encouragement. Otherwise, she hated the job. Hated it. And she was terribly homesick, so she went back home to Montauk, New York, to teach.

“Unfortunately, I never took any time off,” Caroline says, “and, basically, was committing psychological suicide.” Even painting and exhibiting in weekend art shows wasn’t enough to compensate for the stress. Something had to change. 

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Caroline painting in her booth at the Arizona Fine Art Expo

In 2010, while she was still teaching, Caroline researched art shows for the following spring and found the Arizona Fine Art Expo, an annual juried artist show held in Scottsdale, Arizona, from mid-January through March. She applied, was accepted and resigned from her teaching job around Christmas 2010. The next month, Caroline was in Scottsdale exhibiting in the 2011 Arizona Fine Art Expo. 

By the time she returned to the show in 2012, Caroline had bought a fifth wheel toy-hauler RV pulled by a Chevy diesel dually.

“My boyfriend at the time said I needed a big rig,” Caroline says, making it clear the RV and truck were too much for her handle. In fact, her partner never allowed her to drive her own rig.

When she got rid of the boyfriend, she got rid of the big rig and bought a 29-foot C class Winnebago and a cargo trailer. Now comfortable and perfectly mobile, Caroline began crafting a nomadic lifestyle, spending winters in Arizona and then heading to wherever she chose for the summer.

Caroline & Bubbles
Caroline and Bubbles

For six years, Caroline has lived out of her RV and pursued art. 

In 2012 and 2013, she returned east to work out of her own gallery in the Rocky Neck Art Colony located in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Rocky Neck is the oldest working art colony in the country, having brought artists together for more than 150 years. Her photorealism paintings from that time were influenced by the rocky shores, shells and fallen leaves of New England. 

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On the Rocks, a photorealism painting by Caroline

“The gallery had a loft and that’s where I slept,” Caroline says. “Three times a year we had very high tides and the water would come up to within a foot of my gallery door.”

Every winter, she returned to Scottsdale and the Expo.

Caroline’s nomadic life allows her to be where she wants to be, when she wants to be there and with the people of her choosing. 

“I have little families everywhere,” Caroline smiles.

Her blog posts show her mastery of living full-time in Bubbles, her RV. Friends tease Caroline for only washing her hair in rain water. But why wouldn’t she? It’s free. Yet rain is scarce in the desert. When it does rain, Caroline has her 5-gallon buckets ready. She sets them against the big white tent that covers the Expo and catches the silty water. When the dirt settles, Caroline has rain-fresh hair. 

Sonoran-Sentinel
Sonoran Sentinel

Beyond posting about her life as an RVer, Caroline writes poignant blog posts about her perceptions, seen through the eyes of an artist. A perfect example is her blog post titled Why is the Sky Purple? where she answers the question asked by a bored male patron:

Because when I stood at the base of this giant saguaro two weeks ago and it was lit up by the rising orange full moon, there was more to that scene than a blue-black night sky and a dimly lit cactus. There was a gentle majestic giant in front of me, soaring into a velvet sky, and he deserved to be lit up in gold and crimson like the king of the Sonoran Desert that he is. He needed that deep royal violet sky to complement him, to surround him, and most of all, he deserved a lot of color.

Be sure to read her post about Harry, a magnificent saguaro friend. I won’t give away Harry’s fate, but will share the post’s opening:

Like many people, the saguaro cactus was always the first thing I thought of when I thought about the desert. It’s the epitome of the desert, proud, distinct, and vaguely humanoid. But have you ever thought about the life of a cactus? Go up to a big one around midnight in the desert, and the hair on your arm just might rise a little. They loom there, stark dark silhouettes against a speckled sky, full of silent stories. Consider: for almost a century, it huddled in the shade of an ironwood nurse against the harsh desert summers as it began its life. An inch a year. It began growing arms; it grew into its role as the giver of life in the desert. Quiet centuries are spent keeping sentry over a forbidding landscape, the long shadows of its arms the last to unfold its embrace each sunset. Spend some time walking in the Arizona sun, and you’ll appreciate water. Spend some time walking in the Arizona moonlight, and you’ll understand mysticism.

“Little Girl” is the van Caroline pulls to drive on local errands. Recently, she launched a Facebook page and Instagram account for Little Girl, who narrates the blog and describes life on the road with Caroline from her unique vehicular perspective. Little Girl’s popularity is growing fast. 

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Caroline and Little Girl

Leaving photorealism behind, Caroline has been painting cacti in a contemporary abstract style for a few years. She’s still an avid art student and laments not learning about color patterns and paint mixing when in college.

Caroline took matters into her own hands (as usual) and sought out a mentor. At the Expo, she approached Sam Thiewes, a fellow artist who lives in Prescott Valley and also exhibits his western paintings at the Arizona Fine Art Expo. He readily agreed to be Caroline’s coach and guide. 

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Caroline with Sam, her mentor, in his booth at the Expo

Each day during the Expo, they would regularly check in with each other. Sam would study Caroline’s latest painting to advise on composition, perspective or color. She listened to his wise counsel. 

“I’ve learned so much from Sam,” Caroline says. “And from watching other artists for the last two months at this show.” This temporary artist colony in the desert grows into a tight community of creatives who naturally learn from each other, whether by observation or conversations. 

Not having a house or apartment payment eases financial burdens. With her catering background and enjoyment of cooking, Caroline also works at the Expo Cafe while in Scottsdale and at the Great American Fish Company while in California, her usual summer place.

I’ve seen Caroline hustling during lunch at the Expo Cafe, running between the indoor counter and outdoor patio where she grills burgers and cooks soup on a two-burner gas-powered stove. Between preparing wholesome, locally-sourced breakfasts and lunches in the cafe and manning her Expo booth during the show, Caroline’s tenacity kept her going until she could finally put brush to canvas in the afternoons.

me working

In 2016, Caroline received a much-needed validation for her artistic aspirations when she was selected as Artist-in-Residence at the Mojave National Preserve. Along with a boost to her national reputation, she also found a spiritual home in the vast, silent expanses of the Mojave Desert and takes every opportunity to return there for a few days and recharge.

“There’s nothing like the absolute silence of the desert at night,” Caroline says. “Feels like the universe is close at hand when viewing more stars than I ever knew existed. I unplug from civilization and am forced to live in the moment. It’s utterly head cleaning.”

During the Expo, in her spare time, Caroline would paint, paint, paint on her mission to get better and better, whether in her booth or in Bubbles. She’s completed plenty of paintings sitting at her compact dining table and admits to being at peace living with paints smears on her counter, table and even bed sheets.

When Caroline moves her RV to a new place, she’ll wake-up in her familiar, paint-dappled home, but often temporarily forgets where she is. But that’s okay. She figures it out quickly.

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Waiting for the Monsoon

“Change has always been my life,” Caroline says. 

That’s true. The view from her front door changes, her painting style may change and the people she’s surrounded by change with the seasons, but Caroline will always find time to paint, paint, paint. Nothing gets in the way of her artistic vision.

She’s feisty and tenaciously focused that way.

Resources

Website – https://www.carolinekwas.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/caroline.kwas

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/carokwas/

Little Girl Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/littlegirlvan/

Photo Gallery

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