Saturday 19 July 2008

Karen Constance interview

Karen Constance

* Location: Brighton, UK

* How would you describe your art? Colourful and delightful

* Currently working on: A book.

* 3 Likes: Cycling, hot weather, white wine.

* 3 Dislikes: Flying, airports, people calling me Karen Lollypop.

* Daily Inspirations: Books, magazines, music, tv, looking at all the freaks.

* People and artists you admire: Right now the Clayton brothers, Michael James Maxwell, Bruegel, Durer; it changes all the time

* Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: Anything by Ghedalia Tazartes, Smegma, Sun city girls. Sometimes it’s cool just to paint in silence.

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This interview took place on the last day of February 2007. Images reproduced with permission from Karen Constance ©

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Hi Karen, how are you?
What are you up to at the moment?
I'm great, just drinking some wine, you know.

How did you first get started with art and progress to working in the mediums and ‘style’ that you now do?
Were you always aware that you wanted to work within creative mediums when you were younger?

I always drew when I was a kid, every day for years I drew (nothing but females with different outfits on, row after row) but as I got older I lost interest, and for a lot of years I wasn’t doing anything creative then I started to get back into it when I was in my late 20s but I didn’t start painting until I was 30. I suppose when I was a kid I did want to do something to do with the fashion side of art.

Is paint your preferred medium to work within? Has this always been the case?
It is now but as I said before I was only into drawing in pencil apart from the odd black marker pen.

I am aware that your band, Polly Shang Kuan have played at Ladyfests, and you are set to exhibit some of your artwork at this year’s Ladyfest Leeds. How important to you are events which celebrate, and importantly, encourage female creativity and expression?
I’m all for encouraging anyone to express themselves, whether it’s through art or music or whatever their thing is, be it male or female.

Did you receive much encouragement throughout your life for your art, and developing your skills?
Not really, I was the middle child of 5 and my parents both worked. A few teachers tried to get me to stick in more at art but I just wanted to get the hell out of school as fast as possible. I get loads of encouragement from my husband Dylan who also does art and music.

Polly Shang Kuan are primarily what I would (naively?) call a ‘noise’ band, and your artwork also tackles some quite sinister themes – incorporating imagery depicting the darker side of nature and humanity; blood, anatomy, decapitation, poison, excess, tears and danger. In this sense then, both appear to be complex and challenging.
What is your view of creating such “difficult” (for want of a better word) art, and the challenges it creates in audience engagement?
Are these challenges a conscious decision within your creative process?

I don’t think of my art as challenging or difficult, if people choose to think that way when they look at them then it’s whatever is going on in there minds that’s setting those wheels in motion. To me my art has a lot of humour in it.

You have worked collaboratively with other artists, such as the 20 double sided card prints in a handmade wallet that you made with Lauren Naylor. How does producing, or creating artwork collaboratively or alongside other artists benefit your work, or personal creativity?
I love collaborations, I’d like to do more, I find it exciting waiting to see what the other person produces or puts over your input, I’m talking both about art and music.

For me, one of the most engaging pieces you’ve created, which may be viewed as somewhat provocative to some audiences, is the painting of a squirrel eating a baby’s head.
As a mother, do images such as this one come from personal fears prompting your imagination?

I expect that if I had a child I’d have nightmares about creatures stealing and eating her! But then again, I’m a very paranoid person!!
Actually these images are usually collaged together before I paint them so its not like I decide right, I’m going to paint this squirrel eating a baby’s head, it came out that way because it looked good first as a collage so its not coming from any fear angle, though it would suck if Elkkas head got ate by a squirrel.

How much does your personal life and family life influence your work?
I’m sure it does, but I never look at a painting and think, ok, that’s when I was feeling this way or that.

Your work features a lot of imagery from nature. I have spoken with artist Genevieve Castree earlier in this collection of interviews about the horrors and realities of the natural world, and how brutal nature can be. She spoke of how her depiction of nature tries to remove the sugar-coating of life, and gets more to the ‘tough love’ aspects of truth and reality.
To what degree do you agree that art should depict the reality and honesty of life; both nature, and humanity (regardless of how ‘surreal’ the portrayal of it may be in your own work)?

Art can depict whatever it wants, that’s one of the things I fucking love about it, its like cartoons, anything can happen.

I have a friend who claims that her complete excitement over trips to the countryside and seeing animals, specifically farm animals, comes as a life long legacy from growing up in London.
By creating so many paintings featuring subjects that are half human and half animal (such as human bodies with animal heads), what do you think it says about the interactions between humans and animals, or perhaps your own interations with nature?
Shit, I never really thought about it, though now I look around at my paintings and there is a lot of human/animal content. Maybe its saying fuck you man, from the animals point of view.

Your work seems to me to take some influence from science, both medical science and physics/chemistry.
Where did your interest or fascination with science come from?

My Gran was a nurse so had some really great medical encyclopaedias that I remember flicking through, then Dylan bought me these amazing science magazines that I always refer to for influence, they never fail.

There appears to be some interplay in your work of alternate meanings, especially regarding “cult.” Whether it is ‘cult’ as in religious sect symbolism, or ‘cult’ as in images of popular cult ‘icons’ such as Mr T, etc.
Do you enjoy challenging meanings and playing with understandings within your work?
Erm, I think maybe I’ve drank too much of that wine...

What for you are the most enjoyable or rewarding aspects of creating art?
I enjoy every part of it, the beginning when there’s nothing on the canvas right through to knowing that was the final stroke. It’s also a good feeling when someone wants to pay you for it.

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