After a short 15 minute drive from the centre of Bicester we find ourselves in the quaint village of Piddington that's surrounded by the Oxfordshire countryside. We're here to meet acrylic artist Karen Joy.
We wanted to find out about what inspires Karen's amazing paintings and explore her techniques that produce those distinctive 'Karen skies & landscapes' ahead of her Oxfordshire Artweeks exhibition in May. Karen is a prolific artist who loves to work quickly and this is overtly recognisable in the canvases she produces.
When did you start painting Karen?
I started off as a picture restorer, thanks to my mother's encouragement. Then, having mingled with people who had been to art college, I started to fancy becoming an artist. I went to art college as a mature student at twenty-one and began my journey with print making where i gained my degree in fine art. I continued with picture restoration whilst bring up the children. I decided I wanted to get back into art, so I took some watercolour evening classes for five or six years, then took an acrylic workshop, with the most wonderous Susan Grey.
What is your favourite medium and why?
Definitely acrylics, the freedom acrylics allows is what makes it my favourite medium to use. Mixing colours provides an infinite variety of different colours to work with and you can work very thinly to build layers so that tones show through, or you can work much more thickly providing texture.
People sometimes say they don’t like it because it dries so quickly, but that’s what I love – you can work layer upon layer, which suits my style as I like to work fairly energetically. Working with oils, for example, can be a much slower process and takes a lot longer to dry. I find that when I work with oils, I start painting rather nicely.
Where do you create your work and do you ever truly finish a piece of work?
I have a studio at home that I work from and I'm just so much happier in my own space. When I go walking, I often have my sketchbook and watercolours with me, but I don’t necessarily want to paint ‘that particular view’. The view is an excuse to paint, and I’m expressing the feeling that comes out of the looking and observing. Sometimes when I've worked on a painting it comes to a conclusion quite quickly and easily, other times i have it on a wall and have to keep looking,sometimes over several days, until I see the problem. But that’s the joy of acrylic. If you want to, you can wipe a bit out and start again. I keep my work dotted about the house so that they remain in my consciousness.
How do you choose the subject matter for your work?
I travel a lot throughout England, I love England and English landscape. The multilayering of landscape - we get a lot of dramatic skies in here. I'm often asked for commissions too – It’s just such a kick if somebody gets you and your work.
I get recommendations of great places to paint from people that I have painted for as well. Someone gave me a tip to go to the top of Chinnor Hill, and I love it, so beautiful and ever changing. It just seems to go on forever.
Another lady from an art group I go to said she saw a ‘Karen view’ one morning. I just wish they would take pictures! My work is not that repesentational, it's very much impressionistic so the photograph gets me started but the painting then takes over.
How would you define your creative process?
My sketchbook is often put aside in preference to getting stuck in with the painting, I just can't wait to get to get going. That’s me - a bull in a china shop, I’m afraid.
I put a basic sky over the whole canvas, just one colour, and then another slightly different colour,creating layers. I decide where my horizon’s going to be, and then I just keep building it up.
I was given some advice to always put whatever colour I have used in the foreground into the sky, even if it’s mauve. This connects the two together brilliantly and was a revelation. I’m so attached to both landscape and the paint when I work - it’s a very emotional and stimulating experience that I hope comes through in my work.
What inspires you & where do you get your inspiration from?
I feel most inspired when I’m in the countryside, I’m a country girl at heart. I wish I could just get up a bit earlier, really, to capture the mood. The view doesn’t matter as much, as long as the painting works.
What is most important to you to express in a piece of work? Is there a particular idea, theme or motif that you find yourself coming back to and including in your artwork?
I want to evoke the sense of a view that goes on forever. It’s about a landscape that goes on forever; it has no boundaries. And I don’t want them to be nice. Painting, for me, is emotional, and it comes from within. I want that to come across in my work, for it to have come from the soul.
Do you have any formal art qualifications or are you self-taught?
I have an art degree, a BA, but that goes way back, and I wound up doing printmaking anyway. I really don’t see my drawing as good, and I had a teacher who once said ‘Just draw what you see’ and I thought, well my eyes must be upside down! It wasn’t until I went to the acrylic workshop with Susan Grey that I felt I really got it, and going to see other artists that I liked and felt inspired by.
Which artists, well known or otherwise, do you admire?
Kurt Jackson – his slightly earlier work just blew me away. Totally. And a watercolour artist called Stewart Edmonson. I went to a weekend course with Anthony Garrett, whose work is very abstract, and it helped me to discover my individuality as an artist. I thought, I cannot paint like him, because I don’t think like him. My style is who I am. Someone told me that they liked my work because it is quite emotional, and it helped me to realise you have to paint who you are.
How do you define your creativity?
Everybody’s different, totally different. But for me, creativity is an instinct – I don’t consciously think. I just play until it works. You can’t tell anybody how to do it, you are who you are. Everybody has their own style – I have my own style, and even if I was to try and change it you would probably still know that it is a Karen Joy.
What music do you listen to when you are creating?
I was in the studio not too long ago, wondering what I wanted to listen to when I thought, Ah, Mozart…and I had so much fun! So, classical music - my favourite piece is Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. I put it on so loudly that most of Piddington can hear it! I listen to soul and jazz, too.
Looking back on your work, what you do think about it now?
I’m a different person to who I was ten years ago; I’ve grown in confidence, and it’s the art that’s done it. It’s the first time in my life that people have looked at me and gone, wow! I can see looking back that I have improved, but I’m always looking forwards. Every time you paint, you learn something new, and it’s exciting. It’s the point to being alive, really.
Information about artists
Website URL: https://karenjoyart.weebly.com
Contact Phone number: 07808 137322
Oxfordshire Artweeks, Bicester - At The Old St Edburg's School, Cemetery Road, Bicester, OX26 6BB : May 18th -27th 2019
Bucks Art Weeks - St Nicholas Church, Kingsey, HP17 8LY : June 15th-16th, and 22nd-23rd
Waterperry Gallery - September 2019