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With a temporary pause on physical access, Karen Black’s exhibition, Arepo, continues online for the duration of Melbourne’s lockdown.
The influence of Karen Black’s background as a costume designer is a thread that can be traced throughout her career as a painter. In Arepo, Black brings the constituent elements of painting into dialogue with various theatrical conventions and operatic devices.
The suite of paintings What’s that noise there 1-17 (2021) can be read as a libretto in which the narrative for a speculative opera unfolds. Their double-panelled format reflects the symbiotic relationship between back and front stage, with characters emerging and extending beyond the picture plane as they transition between these two realms. Humble and uniform in scale, these small diptychs form the recitative – a monotonous style of singing that advances the plot by imitating the intonation and rhythm of speech. Black’s trademark brushstrokes and use of colour echo set and lighting design, denoting shifts in mood and tethering scenes together across multiple paintings.
The prima donna of Black’s opera – a large painting titled The Solo(ist) (2021) – is installed nearby at Flack Studio for the month of July. Isolated from the plot developing in her absence, she waits in the wings for her aria.
What’s that noise there 1-17 are disparate personal moments of fragmented scenes set in a fictional time, that may eventually form a narrative. They offer a sign language that engenders a private space partly constructed from memory, intertwined with the tropes of power in opera and representation of women in costume, direction and scripts.
The Solo(ist) is a reconstruction of self, waiting in the wings for her solo on stage. She is the conjurer of emotions and feelings and reveals the range and vulnerability of the human voice to inhabit and express the character she is playing.
Karen Black’s artworks explore loaded social and individual narratives, blending the historical with the mythical and traversing the complex interchange between the personal and the political. A sense of theatre permeates Black’s paintings and nervously balanced ceramic assemblages, as obscured figures emerge, or are dissolved by, sumptuously applied patches of dripped and daubed paint.
Recent solo exhibitions include They might be Giants, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney, 2021; The Cook and Her Driver, with Virginia Leonard, Gertrude Glasshouse, Melbourne, 2020; It’s Not Real, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney, 2020; Riding a blue horse, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2019; An Ordinary Poetry, Sullivan+Strumpf, Singapore, 2017; Temporary Arrangements, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2017; Crown, Legs, Arms, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2016; Making Do, Sydney Contemporary, 2015; Piece of Wood, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney, 2015; Peace is guilty, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2014.
Black has exhibited widely in international exhibitions and art fairs including the prestigious West Bund Art & Design, China (2019), ARTHK12, Hong Kong (2017, 2016, 2012); Art Fair Tokyo (2012); Art Stage Singapore (2011); and Art Taipei (2011), and was named as a Global Spotlight Artist at Art Taipei that year.
Recent group exhibitions of note include New Woman, Museum of Brisbane, 2020-21; Craftivism. Dissident Objects and Subversive Forms, Shepparton Art Museum, Victoria and touring nationally, 2018-2019; Beyond Reason. Exploring the logic of the imagination, QUT Art Museum, Brisbane, 2018; Shut Up and Paint: NGV Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2016; Painting, More Painting, ACCA, Melbourne, 2016 and Borders, barriers, walls, Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne, 2016.
Black has been the recipient of several awards including the Glasshouse/Stonehouse Residency in Chenaud, France, and the Artbank QPAC Commission, both in 2019. Black was a consecutive finalist in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ prestigious Archibald Prize in 2020 and 2021 and the Sir John Sulman Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2017, she presented a solo installation of ceramics for the Sidney Myer Australian Ceramic Award at Shepparton Art Museum in Victoria and was an Artspace One Year Studio Resident in Sydney.
Her work is included in numerous public collections including The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; The Australian War Memorial, Canberra; Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; Griffith University Art Museum, Brisbane; Shepparton Art Museum, Victoria; Queensland University of Technology Art Museum, Brisbane; Artbank, Sydney; the Macquarie Group Collection; and the Salsali Private Museum, Dubai, in addition to various private collections in Australia and overseas.
Black graduated from Queensland College of the Arts, Griffith University, with a Bachelor of Fine Art in 2011. She is currently a Sessional Lecturer in Ceramics at the National Art School, Sydney.