Karen Whittingham – England

Eight years ago, Karen had just begun to feel comfortable enough to not only think of herself as an Artist but also to describe herself as such. It seemed such a brave statement, a recognition of individual achievement. Karen had also, she thinks, begun to develop a signature within her work.

She has always been a people person, it is the thread that connects her career choices and, as such, has always been interested in portraiture. She enjoys trying to imagine the narrative, the character and history behind static eyes. The clues in symbols, surroundings or pose. She seeks the narrative in physiognomy, like the portrait photographer Imogen Cunningham she is “hung up on people.”

At that epoch her medium was print and the process varied. Her exploration lay within the fragility and transience of life, with a particular interest in the fleeting passage and vulnerability of childhood. She made portraits of sleeping children cloaked and shadowed with the images of endangered butterflies and insects.

More recently she has begun to paint and draw small dead birds who, for her, also epitomise this notion of porcelain chance and unfathomable reason.

In 2009 her husband developed Leucaemia and she became a full time carer. She had little time to devote to her artistic career although she did not abandon creativity or desire. By 2014, her husband was still at home but not critically ill anymore and her three daughters were growing into young women and starting to leave the chrysalis of home. She developed and realised a solo project entitled, ‘The Imperatives of Mama Mountain Goat’. These were works depicting clichés/ words of wisdom or well meant advice delivered in acronyms or phrases. As she no longer had the space/time to print, she sewed these life prompts into items belonging to the children; a pyjama top, a skirt, a pillow case. This developed into embroidering on to those objects that others had already worked upon: a tapestry, a sampler of cross stich. She mock engraved onto drinking glasses. The results were displayed in 2015 at a solo pop up exhibition. In the background playing on a loop were the words, ‘Walk Tall, Walk Straight and look the World right in the eye.’ More advice penned by Don Wayne , sung by Val Doonican.

In the future, Karen hopes to develop this strand by investigating advice given through fairy stories, nursery rhymes or meted out on social media or in the popular press. She also intends to spend more time studying portraiture starting with the joyful paintings of Alexi Von Jawlensky and the charcoal masterpieces of Mathew Carr whilst poring over the back catalogues of the BP portrait exhibitions.