We were profoundly sad to learn of the passing of Karen Aqua, a trailblazing animator whose work and life have had a tremendous impact on the New England arts community for more than three decades.
The Massachusetts Cultural Council was honored to award Karen Aqua an Artist Fellowship in Film & Video in 2011, based on the strength of her remarkable film Twist of Fate. The film explores, through a richly envisioned landscape of physiological, medical, and emotional imagery, the experience of being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
Below is a tribute to the artist written by fellow animator Joanna Priestley, who collaborated with Karen and her husband Ken Field to create the film Andaluz. The tribute, reprinted with permission from Priestley’s website, gives a sense of the scope of Karen’s contributions as an artist and a person.
In Memoriam – Karen Aqua by Joanna Priestley
Karen Aqua was an extraordinarily talented, creative, pioneer indie filmmaker. She made a dozen wonderful films that have been a huge inspiration to me and to people all over the world. Her work is about ritual, landscape, color, transformation and spirit. I love her films. Just two weeks before her death on May 30 of cancer, she premiered a brand new film, Taxonomy.
Karen was a delightful, playful, energetic woman and a kind, generous, thoughtful friend. Karen and her husband, talented composer/musician Ken Field, and I were guests at the Fundacion Valparaiso in Mojacar, Spain in 2001, where the three of us collaborated on a film about the region (Andaluz). To complete the drawings for the film, Karen and I shared residencies at the MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, NH) and the Millay Colony (Austerlitz, NY). I am so grateful I got to make a film with Karen and Ken.
We also met up at Mardi Gras in New Orlean, where Karen and Ken played music and danced in parades. Karen always looked spectacular and I fondly remember her wearing a magnificent, purple and silver sequined dress that stopped traffic. One afternoon she started talking to an old gentleman in a bar and within 15 minutes they were friends and he had given her a beautiful Zulu coconut.
All over the world, everywhere she went, people fell in love with her. That’s the kind of person she was. Everyone loved her. The world has lost a great human being and an amazingly talented artist. I will miss her with all my heart.
Images: Karen Aqua, photo by Vasia Anagnostopoulou; still from TWIST OF FATE by Karen Aqua (2009), 8:40 min; still from ANDALUZ by Karen Aqua and Joanna Priestley (2004), 6 min.