Patrick Michael Karnahan is an award-winning California artist. His original oil paintings depict American railroads, wildland firefighting and landscapes and seascapes of the American West.
In 2005 at the Smithsonian Museum's 100-year celebration of the U.S. Forest Service, Karnahan's artwork was on display.
He began painting with oils when he was 8. He says, "I was always in trouble with teachers for drawing in class during math and English assignments."
His father's interest in history, aircraft and railroads exposed Karnahan to the power and romance of steam engines. He has painted over 500 portraits of the Iron Horse.
Selling his artwork in high school earned him enough money to buy his first automobile. When a college art professor looked at his portfolio, and claimed he couldn't teach Karnahan anything new, the young student pursued a major in public administration.
Working with the U.S. Forest Service as a fire lookout provided ample time for painting while watching for danger. At 100 feet above, ground plein air painting increased his artistic skill within a few short months.
"I was able to capture every cloud and light movement ... with Kings Canyon on my left and the High Sierra right in front of me," the artist says.
A career in firefighting provided inspiration. Over a span of 30 years he witnessed manifold changes in the methods and types of equipment used to fight fires.
"From the early days of the old B-17 fire bomber to the DC-7 jet, things have really changed," he says.
Karnahan views his mission as two-fold: to emphasize the growing need for tough wildland fire management and to honor the heroes who have sacrificed much in their efforts to save lives, property and precious wildlands.
Having witnessed 150-foot walls of flame and major fire tanker drops, his images are not otherworldly or designed to stir tender feelings for heroic efforts. Instead they present the sordid and grim realities facing every man and woman on the fire line, challenging us to a greater respect.
Karnahan's fire scenes have resulted in his recognition by the nation's firefighters as the leading artist in the subject. This has led to his artwork being featured on numerous book and magazine covers, in graphic designs, on fine art posters and, of course, with the U.S. Forest Service.
His paintings have been included in exhibits at venues such as Penn State University, the Kennedy Center for the Arts and the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
Karnahan's work is currently being showcased in an exhibit entitled 'California Wildfire' at Sonora Joe's Coffee and Art in Sonora. Located at 140 S. Washington St., this show will continue through Sept. 3. Selected paintings are also on display at the Gallerie Amsterdam in Carmel.
For details or to view paintings online, visit www.trainfire.com, or email Karnahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at email@example.com.