Karen Black’s recognisable oil on marine ply paintings hover somewhere between figuration and abstraction. Swathes of vivid colour surround obscured figures veiled in drips and splashes of paint. Her subjects fuse the historical with the mythical and the political with the personal as she examines tales of separation, isolation, loss and violence. Black captures emotive expression with a raw mark or gestural brush stroke with impressive prowess.
Black has enjoyed great accolades since her recent arrival on the contemporary art scene after two decades in the costume design industry, and teaching art and screen printing in the community arts sector in Sydney. Drama and theatre inform her use of allegory and metaphor when tackling current tragedies such as the Egyptian revolution, Afghan refugees, and the Christmas Island asylum seekers deaths in 2010; “I do set up the paintings as if they were stage plays..I pit characters against each other.”[i]
This new body of work explores self-immolation, a prominent media focus following more than a dozen incidences in Egypt during the Arab Spring, the countless cases in Tibet in 2012 and last year’s lone protest on Washington’s National Mall. This dark and unnerving topic is camouflaged in drips, smears and thick brush strokes. Layers of vibrant colour give way to open areas of washes of soft tones, together creating complex backdrops for the crowds of figures featured. Black obscures elements in her works and she invites her audience to seek out these subtleties and discover the complexities of the work in its entirety. Such potent political subjects are approached in an intensely personal and
focused manner with careful research into the stories of the figures she depicts, “…I usually know who all the people are in terms of what they’re thinking, and why they are there…that they walk in a certain way.”[ii]
It is through her figure’s postures or gestures that these dark tragedies unfold, though the morbidity is abated by the intensity of colour that dominates Black’s paintings. This vibrant palette opens the narrative and alludes to a sense of an outcome, a celebration of new beginning or an opportunity for hope. “The relationship between contemporary global human rights issues and individual experiences of suffering, encouraging viewers to relate to the plight of her subjects through identification and empathetic self-projection, an emotive and effective outcome of experiencing her
Karen Black completed a Bachelor of Fine Art at Griffith University in 2011 and currently lives and works in Brisbane. In 2014 she was awarded the Belle Arti Prize and was the Art and Australia/Credit Suisse Private Banking Contemporary Art Award recipient the year prior. Karen Black’s recent exhibitions of note include last year’s Art & Australia Collection 2003-2013, Hazlehurst Regional Gallery, NSW; ART Hong Kong, 2012; Art Fair Tokyo, 2012 and in 2011; both Art Stage Singapore and Global Spotlight Artist at Art Taipei. Black’s works are held in prestigious public collections including Monash University Museum of Art, Griffith University Art Gallery, Artbank, Macquarie Bank Collection and the Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, in addition to various private collections both in Australia and overseas.
[i] Rule, Dan. ‘Karen Black – Revolution at centre stage’, Vault, Issue 5, 2014 [ii] Rule, Dan. ‘Karen Black – Revolution at centre stage’, Vault, Issue 5, 2014 [iii] Lisa Bryan-Brown Paint: Studies in the Synecdochic Potential of TragedyArtist’s profile