When Karen Hydendahl starts to experience a migraine, she usually asks herself one question: Does she take the meds that usually give her other symptoms or does she try to tough it out?
You might not suspect she’s been dealing with this struggle when you talk to her; she’s chipper and speaks quickly, especially when she’s excitedly detailing a new piece she just created. And she’s usually always working on something. She currently works as a storyboard revisionist for Bob’s Burgers, and when she’s not busy doing that, she’s making art.
“I can’t sit down and just kind of finish one big emotional painting at one time,” Hydendahl says. “I appreciate people that do — I love that and I wish I could just be that free. But for my kind of lifestyle and the way my head works, I like having different stages of a piece of art, and that way I can attack several at a time.”
Hydendahl grew up in San Diego and attended Pasadena ArtCenter before moving to New York, where she planned to go into editorial illustration.
“I loved fashion,” Hydendahl says. “I loved making things and that’s the thing: I’m a maker. … I like to plan things and build things and have things like tools.”
Her experience with figure drawing — and a natural curiosity — landed her in animation instead. Since then she’s gone on to be at the creative helm of some major shows. She was the art director for Daria before she landed at Bob's Burgers.
In the mornings before work, she spends her time painting. That’s her time to bring to life the visions she creates on her own, without having to keep anyone else’s needs in mind. While she’s happy to be working on a popular show — “I actually laugh every day at something I’m drawing,” she acknowledges — there’s a different satisfaction she gets from making her own work.
“Your name gets out there and stuff, but it's different from doing your own things,” Hydendahl says. “It’s very gratifying doing my painting and having people like those and respond to them the way they do.”
Her work is on display as part of a group show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery. Her acrylic, aerosol and screen-ink pieces capture fragmented visions of what it’s like to experience a migraine. This is something the artist knows on a personal and painful level. Each piece depicts the overwhelming symptoms, including auras, that many people deal with on a regular basis.
Her paintings are often disorienting, creating a sense of movement and double vision. Yet for Hydendahl, each piece is a way to find something creative within a painful experience.
“Even though the migraines are panful and horrible, you try and find the silver lining all the time,” she says. “[You try] to make it not be so bad. Like ‘I’m going to get through this.’ When I have a bad migraine, it's like I’m trying my best not to look like I have a migraine. There are some really bad days. So I’m trying to keep the funny side on a tough matter.”
Without this context, the pieces might seem just like highly saturated, imagined scenes. That’s fine with Hydendahl, too: “More people can relate to it — like the people who don’t get migraines, who are like, 'Whoa, this is cool, really bold imagery.'”
Hydendahl often talks about her experiences with migraines with others who have the same problem. She also looks back on the history of migraines within her family. “Dagmar” depicts her late aunt, who had migraines and schizophrenia. “Hollis” depicts her eldest daughter, who also has migraines.
Hydendahl is currently exploring works made up of more mechanical parts; she’s obsessed with cranks and levers. When she first started working on Bob’s Burgers, she made a piece of “fan art” that featured a crank. It moves Gene’s head around and around but also powers a zoetrope-like contraption that features Louise throwing a cupcake with a chili on top into Gene’s open mouth. Below, Tina’s mouth opens and shuts, bright flames revealed with each movement. The strange contraption made its way into a promo for the show.
For Hydendahl, part of making a multifaceted piece is the joy of creating something that didn’t exist before. For now, that imagination has led to works that represent migraines. Next time it might be something even more complex.
Hydendahl’s work will be on display at La Luz de Jesus through Aug. 28. 4633 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz. laluzdejesus.com/owens-lopez-hydendahl-waddell-theodora.