Karen Green first came to our attention via her art on display at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre.
*** Audio file will be removed by the end of March 2020 ***
*** Audio file will be removed by the end of March 2020 ***
In more recent times, Karen Green has been very active on Twitter, sharing thoughts, links and events about social justice. It was this interest that led to a chain of events that saw her enter a portrait of Kon Karapanagiotidis of the Melbourne-based Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in the 2016 Archibald Prize.
Kon Karapanagiotidis by Karen Green.
Entry in 2016 Archibald Prize. Image courtesy of Karen Green.
Text of the interview with Karen Green:
BQ: I’m talking with Karen Green in Canberra this morning. G’day, Karen. How’re you going?
KG: Hi, Bill. I’m really well, thanks.
BQ: Now Karen, I’m getting old, just turned 50, starting to lose my synapses. I’m trying to remember what year it was that I blundered into the Tuggeranong Arts Centre – I was looking for the cafe out there – and it was an exhibition that was setting up, and I was quite taken with your artwork. So I can’t remember the year; I only know that it was between 2008 and 2012.
KG: And the exhibition was ‘Blue’. And my series was the ‘True Blue’ series.
BQ: I went out to the Canberra Potters’ Society at Watson Arts Centre, and I can only remember the themes of female and red.
But tell us about you and your art.
KG: I’ve been painting all my life. I’ve been drawing and making stuff all my life. Throughout my life I’ve sort of dabbled and then it wasn’t until about 2000 I actually became a professional artist.
With that, I had to have a practice and actually produce stuff regularly, and start exhibiting and thinking about my work, rather than just making things because I felt like making something.
I’ve always been somebody who is interested in social justice, in human rights, and as a feminist, I thought that art was a really fantastic way to express that. And actually more and more, it’s becoming the only way to get a message across quickly and without being angry because often this conjures up stuff which is emotive. So I try to express that in a way which is appealing but in a way that people might be able to relate to.
BQ: I know one thing that really resonated with me was when you, on Twitter, put up a series of pictures. You did a portrait for the Archibald Prize with our friend Kon (Karapanagiotidis). Tell us about that.
KG: That all came about because last year I decided to do a project for myself which was called ‘A Drawing Every Morning’. Basically, it was a quick sketch that I did and then posted on social media, and it was all about all the things I was just talking about. So every day I did a drawing that related in some way – and it also included issues around kids or anything that popped into my head. But I also wanted to include some of the people who for me were real standouts last year in terms of human rights.
And one of those people was Kon Karapanagiotidis, who is the CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (Melbourne).
So I did a quick sketch of him. And you know with all of these drawings, I’m quite a shy person on social media. It freaks me out sometimes. So I put the drawings out there and I didn’t really know what to expect, or was I really expecting anything? I don’t know.
It was just a project I wanted to do for a whole year every day. So then out of the blue, Kon contacted me and he’d seen the little sketch I’d done on Twitter, and said thanks for doing that. And although I am shy, I do recognise an opportunity.
I thought, Wouldn’t it be fantastic if I could paint his portrait, so I just threw caution to the wind and asked him if I could do that. And he said yes.
So I went down to Melbourne at the beginning of  and somehow managed to pinch a bit of his time. And it was such a fantastic meeting and he’s such a generous person, and so passionate. So I did the portrait, and entered it into the Archibald – along with 1000 other people – and that in itself is a really wonderful experience. Just being able to paint somebody so driven and so passionate about what they do is an inspiration for me.
I’ve entered it a few times, and you do always go into it with some kind of idea that it would be nice just to be hung on the wall. But to be hung on the wall and be recognised by your peers. It’s not necessarily to get the prize, although that would be nice, but to have just some kind of recognition by your peers because often we work in isolation a lot of the time as artists. I’m sitting here now in my living room aka studio where I’ve got many canvases and my easel takes up a fair bit of space. I’m in this space; all I’ve got is the computer to stay in touch with the world all the time.
I think it’s one of those ways in which you can, if you’re going to enter competitions, one of those ways you can touch base with all the other artists out there doing the same thing. They’re going through the same process, the same creative process, which is a huge thing.
BQ: Two reactions to all of that. Firstly, that old line: “Ah, but a [person]’s reach should exceed [their] grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
Secondly, every time I see something of yours come up on social media from Karen Green, Karen Green Artist, or your other page, I always stop and think that this is something I’m going to be interested in. Keep putting that stuff out there.
KG: You don’t know what that means to hear that. That’s motivational and thank you.
I do it because I have to. I do it because it’s who I am and what makes me tick. I try not to have that idea that what I’m saying is any more or less important than what anybody else is saying because I just want to be part of the conversation.
I think that’s what it means: being part of the conversation and contributing rather than pontificating.
BQ: You put yourself out there and you find that people are going to attend to it. The social justice stuff comes through in your art. You put your art out there; is it important for you to convey a message or are you more interested in others’ interpretation of what you’re putting out?
KG: I guess it’s a bit of both, really. When I’m doing my work, I do plan it. So I’m not one of those people who just has a blank canvas and can walk over to it and chuck some paint on it or whatever.
Really I do plan it and do think about it, so when I’ve brought all the work together and if I’m talking about it if I write an artist statement, for example, I’ll talk about what inspired the work and how I came to make the work the way I did. Why I used certain materials or why I use certain colours and what the whole concept was behind it.
So yes, I am hoping I can convey my idea through the work and hope that comes across as meaningful.
But at the same time, if someone looks at my work who doesn’t know a thing about it and says, I really like that; don’t know why, I just really like it, well that’s fine too. They might say they don’t like it; I’ve experienced that too, but to get a reaction is a good thing, because from there you can have a conversation.
It never really devites to an extreme where it’s got so removed from it. Often when people describe their ideas, somewhere along the line, I can see a connection. I can say, I understand how they came to that conclusion. If somebody does tell me what they got out of it, it’s never something so far from it that it doesn’t make sense.
BQ: It’s somewhere in the same postcode.
KG: Generally, yeah.
BQ: Karen, what’s coming up next for you in exhibitions? I know just recently you were looking around for an exhibition space.
KG: Yeah, I’d like to find a good space to have an exhibition and I’m thinking I wouldn’t mind doing a retrospective. Because I’m going to be 50 next year. So I think I’d really like to celebrate that, and I’d like to celebrate that with people who have supported my work in the city that has supported my work. Canberra has been really good to me.
I think that would really make sense, so I’d like to put a lot of things in that people haven’t seen before. So it would have to be quite a large space so I’m still thinking about that. I’m not sure.
BQ: And where can people find Karen Green’s work right now?
KG: At the moment, it’s online at my website which is [now] karengreenartist.wixsite.com/kgartist and it’s online at Facebook at www.facebook.com/karengreenartistcanberra and also Grey Matters Woman www.facebook.com/greymatterswoman.
All the links are on my website.
BQ: Karen, we’ve explored a lot of avenues. Thank you very much for spending time with us today. Looking forward to your multiple successes and your retrospective next year.
KG: Fantastic. It’s been really lovely. Thanks so much, Bill.
As mentioned in the interview, Karen Green turns 50 in the first half of 2017 and is looking to hold a retrospective of her works, in the city of Canberra that has been good to her, good for her art, and good for the publics who have been witness to her art.