Karen May

Karen May is a multi-media artist who practices in collage, ceramics, drawing, painting, poetry and fiber art. Often times the boundaries between mediums and styles commingle in Karen’s work. Karen shares, “Some of the things I’m making are collages, some of them are maps. What I do with the maps is I work on them and then they turn into collages. And the same with with a book.” 

Karen likes to work with found text and frequently creates her own poetry throughout her daily life. She is always looking for source material for her work, saying “Like if I see a stop sign, I find some words that I don’t have on the paper and I put them there, yes. Some words I find when I’m having a nice time out with my brother. Kitty told me ‘Karen come up with a poem.’ She’s more of a poet. She said, ‘It’s going to be good for the NIAD center, let’s try it.’” 

Karen’s family is deeply important to her and continues to be an inspiration for her across materials. Often she draws portraits of her mother with colored pencils or creates works for her brother. Karen uses her art as a “memory tool.” Sharing about one drawing, she says “This is a picture of my mom and me. My mom’s name was Madeleine May, my father was Wallace G May. My father and mother are up in heaven now . If I have to remember my mom I can draw a picture of my mom. One way or the other I’m always thinking of my mom.” 

Another significant subject for Karen’s work are cats. She walks us through her process by sharing, “Well first I draw the head, that’s always the first part, oh you draw the body then. Then you draw the whiskers up. Last she draws in the tail.” Karen is also enthusiastic about creating cats in clay: “I made it out of clay and kitty said it looked so pretty. But also kitty told me that it wasn’t done and you needed to add a head, the eyes, also the ears, the nose and the mouth. Kitty said ‘how about a hat?” 

Karen has a sharp eye for fashion and loves working in fiber arts, including dress making and doll making: “Sometimes I make fashion dresses. I try to be easy with myself. Sometimes I make a picture of something, maybe Karen or her mother or a dress.” In addition to her interest in fashion, Karen enjoys the rhythm of working by hand on a loom, sharing “One of the things she does at the center is weaving, over and under, over and under. Some of it I do by hand, I go knitting along the way.”

When asked how she would like to end her artist statement, Karen reflected, “The way she sees it is we need love in different ways. Be nice to one another.” Another idea that came to her was ending on a poem that she frequently recites, “Roses are red/violets are blue/sugar is sweet and so are you.”

// Karen’s available work //

exhibition history

Roses are Red, or, See what Kitty can do without fighting the war? organized by Liam Golden // NIAD Online Exhibition // August 2023

Salad Days // Personal Space Gallery Vallejo // July 2023

Lemon Art Work, organized by Seymour Polatin // NIAD Online Exhibition // July 2023

The Rainbow Dancing In The Dark organized by Liz Hernández // NIAD Online Exhibition // July 2023

Into the Brightness: Artists from Creativity Explored, Creative Growth & NIAD // Oakland Museum of California // May 2023

Golden Hour, organized by Poppy Dodge // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2023

Empty Kind Of Full, organized by Tara Neuffer // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2023

A NIAD Art Books Show, organized by NIAD artist Karen May // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2023

Rainbow Cat Picnic organized by Cynthia Ona Innis // NIAD Online Exhibition // March 2023

Waking, Breathing, Making! organized by Laura Kamian McDermott // NAID Online Exhibition // February 2023

Puzzles In Print organized by Delilah Ponton // NIAD Online Exhibition // February 2023

I Dreamt the Sun Was in My Bed Organized By SF State University’s Fall 2022 Exhibition Design Class // NIAD Online Exhibition // December 2022

Holiday Gift Guide // “Between Worlds” organized by Joey Enos // NIAD Online Exhibition // December 2022

NIAD Ink: 35 Years of Prints organized by Andrés Cisneros-Galindo // Online Exhibition // December 2022

Blow Like Magic In Their Face And Vanish organized by James Sterling Pitt // October 2022

Feeling Language, organized by Kate Laster // NIAD Gallery Exhibition // October 2022

Los Angeles Review of Books: “Soft Material” // September 2022

I Belong to Myself, organized by Maria Seda-Reeder // NIAD Online Exhibition // September 2022

Told Through A Line, organized by Risa Lenore // NIAD Online Exhibition // September 2022

Mash Up, organized by Kiera Lofgreen // NIAD Online Exhibition // September 2022

Question Mark, organized by Betsy Odom // NIAD Online Exhibition // August 2022

A Little Bit of Everything: Fashion & Fiber at NIAD // NIAD Gallery Exhibition // July 2022

Touching, organized by Zachary Epcar // NIAD Online Exhibition // July 2022

Color as Energy Field, organized by Chinzalée Sonami // NIAD Online Exhibition // June 2022

And Then Some… // NIAD Annex Exhibition // May 2022

Saves Nine, organized by Megan Kiskaddon // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2022

In Love., organized by Meg Pohlod // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2022

Quiet, organized by Matthew Pawlowski // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2022

Can’t Be Shook, organized by Alex Gartelmann // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2022

DreamForms, curated by Lauren Ari and Julio Del Rio // NIAD Online Exhibition // March 2022

WIN WIN 10 Silent Auction Preview Exhibition // NIAD Gallery Exhibition // February 2022

NIAD Art Center x Mills Building // Mills Building, San Francisco // February – June 2022

Holiday Gift Guide #5, organized by Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh // NIAD Online Exhibition // December 2021

Small Press Book Bazaar // SFMOMA // December 2021

Con Los Animales Estamos Conectados, organized by Christo Oropeza // NIAD Windows Exhibition // November 2021

Memory, organized by Ling Shang // NIAD Online Exhibition // October 2021

A Firmament in the Midst of the Waters, organized by Jay Youngdahl // NIAD Online Exhibition // October 2021

Ravel, organized by Danny Volk // NIAD Online Exhibition // September 2021

Every Sing, organized by Jesse Malmed // NIAD Online Exhibition // July 2021

Perfect Memory, organized by Justin Clifford Rhody // NIAD Online Exhibition // June 2021

Group Chat, organized by Kate Rhoades and Katy Kondo // NIAD Online Exhibition // June 2021

Bookends, organized by Ellen Lake // NIAD Online Exhibition // June 2021

Purple Barbara, organized by Richard Zimmerman // NIAD Online Exhibition // May 2021

Warming, organized by Good Buy Supply // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2021

Other Side of the Rainbow, organized by Stephanie Hanor // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2021

Words and Feeling, organized by Nicole Shaffer // NIAD Online Exhibition // April 2021

True Identity, organized by Patricia Iglesias Peco // NIAD Online Exhibition // March 2021

Draw Your Letters, organized by Danny Floyd // NIAD Online Exhibition // February 2021

The Absence Of Evidence Is Not The Evidence of Absence, organized by Christalena Hughmanick // NIAD Online Exhibition // February 2021

Road to Nowhere // selected by Eric Shiner // NIAD Online Exhibition // January 2021

Another Fine Mess Age: Anthony Grant X NIAD // NIAD Windows 2020

Through My Eyes// organized By Scott Hewicker and Cliff Hengst NIAD Art Center 2020

Good On Paper: Erin McCluskey Wheeler x NIAD // NIAD Art Center 2020

Fiberful // organized By Cynthia Ona Innis NIAD Art Center 2019

A Kind of Movement // organized by Jay Wehnert Portland Art And Learning Studios 2019 

Ether Here Nor There: Anthony Grant x NIAD // NIAD Art Center 2019

L’Amérique N’Existe Pas // organized by Matthieu Morin Art Et Marges Museum Brussels 2019

CE x CG X NIAD // Minnesota Street Projects San Francisco 2019 

Business Casual // organized By Maria Guzman Capron and Nan Collymore NIAD Art Center May 2019

Hailing From Parts Unknown // organized By Curtis Turner NIAD Art Center 2019

Map It // Museum of Northern California Art (monca) Chico 2019

Books, Man // organized by Mike Monteiro NIAD Art Center 2019

Redefining Contemporary Art // organized by Courtney Eldridge Depot Steamboat Springs 2019

Collective Memory: NIAD // organized by Hannah Mode 2019

Where They Want To Go // organized by Erin McCluskey Wheeler NIAD Art Center 2019

Talking Heads: Figuration From Northern California Ceramicists // Curated organized by Susan Alexander and NIAD Art Center Museum of Northern California Art (monca) Chico 2018

Exquisite Corpse: CG x CE x NIAD // NIAD Art Center 2018

It’s Complicated // organized by Kathleen King NIAD Art Center 2018

Microcosmic // organized by Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh NIAD Art Center 2018

The Genre Leaps // organized by Margaret Tedesco NIAD Art Center 2018

Reinventing History // NIAD Art Center 2018

Can Did // organized By Julio Rodriguez NIAD Art Center 2018

The Witnesses // organized by Cliff Hengst and Scott Hewicker NIAD Art Center 2017

Affinity // organized by Tim Buckwalter Museum of Northern California Art Chico 2017

We Can Do It! 2 // Hurwich Library, Alliant University San Francisco 2017

Collograph // NIAD Art Center 2017, Yali’s Cafe Stanley Hall Berkeley 2017

LA Art Book Fair // White Columns Booth, BFA Press Booth 2017

Creature Feature // organized by John Casey NIAD Art Center 2017

NADA Miami Art Fair // White Columns Booth Miami Florida 2016

Karen May // NIAD Art Center 2016

Curious Weave // organized by Ramekon O’Arwisters NIAD Art Center 2016

Cities In Mind // organized by Kathleen King NIAD Art Center 2016

Party Animals! // organized by Katie Johnson NIAD Art Center 2016

Celebrating A Vision: Art & Disability // SFO Terminal 2 2016

Adventure! // organized By Scott MacLeod NIAD Art Center 2015

Welcome To My World // organized by Chris Ashley NIAD Art Center 2015

Assemble: A NIAD Art Center Project With Nina Zurier // organized by Nina Zurier NIAD Art Center 2015

Musiquarium // NIAD Art Center 2015

City In Motion // NIAD Art Center 2014

Avatar // organized by Justine Frischmann NIAD Art Center 2014

Wild Ones // Women’s Cancer Resource Center Oakland 2014

Local Motion, Part One // Hercules Public Library 2013-14

Where Have All The People Gone? // organized by Amy Miller Village Theatre Art Gallery Danville 2013

Yes To The Dress Pop-Up Shop // organized by Peter Gravener NIAD Art Center 2013

Diamond Dogs Pet Supply Pop-Up Shop // NIAD Art Center 2103

Mud, Honey // NIAD Art Center 2013

Championship Vinyl // NIAD Art Center 2013

A Light That Never Goes Out: Continuing Traditions In Abstraction // NIAD Art Center 2013


Star 82 Review Issue 10.1, edited by Alisa Golden // March 2022

Karen May: Let it be a book // TUTTO Publishers // 2021

Karen May, BFA Press 2016


The Editorial Magazine: Nurturing Independence Through Artistic Development (July 27, 2020)

The September Issues: Revisionism (2019, Fall)

Artsy: 9 Artists To Watch At NADA Miami (2017, December)

Nat. Brut: I, Too, Like Purple (May 2017)

Artsy: NADA’s Emerging Art Community Thrives Amid Turbulent Times (2016, December)

San Francisco Chronicle: “City In Motion”: NIAD Artists Create Urban Environment (2014, May)

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Avatar’: Exhibition At NIAD Art Center (2014, January)

San Ramon Valley Times: Disabled Artists Work On Display (2013, September)

San Francisco Chronicle: NIAD Art Center’s Gifts Of Artistic Ability (2012, December)