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  • Writer's pictureShelley Pisani

Inspirational Fraser Coast Artist Shares Her Story

I met Fraser Coast Artist Karen M Andersen late last year and was immediately impressed by her abstract work and her expression of the reason for doing her art. Karen has kindly agreed to be interviewed about her practice. Here is her amazing story.

How did you get started in your art practice?

I always wanted to paint abstract artworks. Even when I was a child, I loved to spend my days painting and drawing in rainbows of colour, dreaming of being an artist when I grew up. Somewhere along the line, fear crept in though, and I allowed it to hold me back. I was afraid that I was too much of a perfectionist, too enraptured in trying to create the perfect realistic drawing of an animal or of a landscape that I would never be able to loosen up enough to paint free-form abstracts. I worried endlessly what others would think of my art, of me painting abstracts rather than the public’s standard marker of “good art” (i.e. representational, realistic artworks). If I stopped creating that way and became an abstract painter instead, would people think my art was crap? It wasn’t until I turned 40, saw Ken Done’s artwork in person at Rockhampton Art Gallery in 2016 and took a masterclass with him that I began to shift the fear. It was the unwavering support and encouragement of my best friend of 20 years after I told her that I wanted to begin painting abstracts and have an exhibition of my work someday which finally gave me the courage to stop worrying about what everyone else thought of my art and to paint the way I had always longed to paint. In late 2016, I began painting only abstracts. I opened my online shop in March 2017, began exhibiting and selling my artwork, and I have never looked back.

When I began painting abstractly, I found the clarity which had been missing from my life. I realised that my representational artworks, while they showed good technique, were missing something…my heart, my soul. I was only creating art that way because I thought I should, because I thought that was the benchmark of a “good” artist. But in painting abstractly, I found freedom. It became my therapy, my way of finding the answers to the seemingly endless multitude of emotions and questions that run through my mind every day. I feel as though the colours I use and the marks I make are the only way that I can fully express my emotions, experiences, and messages. My paintings are my language…I feel I can communicate far more through them than any words I speak ever could.

What are the key inspirations behind your work?

I have suffered from Major Depression (Depression), Generalised Anxiety Disorder (Anxiety), Social Anxiety Disorder and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) since I was a small child. As a result, I have frequently been misunderstood and misjudged by others throughout my life which has, in turn, only served to exacerbate my illnesses, leading me to feel lonely, isolated, hopeless, worthless. I do not want fellow sufferers of mental illness to feel how I have felt. I do not want them to have to endure the stigma that can be projected onto them by others. Instead, I want them to feel that they are not alone. I want them to know that there are other people out there who go through the same things as they do. I want them to feel understood, validated and supported, because I have had people do that for me and know very well the powerful healing effects that it can have on a person’s life. It is for these reasons that I feel so deeply passionate about speaking up and creating artwork about my encounters, experiences with, and reactions to my own with mental illness. It is my artistic inspiration, my life’s calling, something I feel compelled by a higher force to do.

What is the business model and products that you are aiming to develop through participating in the CQ Shopfront project?

While being an artist is my first love, I am also extremely passionate about sewing, fashion and design. I grew up surrounded by creative women. My maternal grandmother was a professional dressmaker and she - along with my Mum - taught me to sew and ingrained in me a love for fabric, fabric design, fashion, and for creating and wearing handmade outfits. My paternal grandmother was trained in baking and cake-decoration through her father’s bakery. It was my grandmothers’ hard-working natures, entrepreneurial drive and determined dedication to their creativity which has inspired me to build my own creative business as a sole trader.

For my CQ Shopfront project, I am combining my art with my love for sewing, fashion and design to develop a small collection of size-inclusive slow fashion for women. Each garment in the line will feature fabric printed with my own original designs which will be developed from my abstract paintings. My vision is to create arty, colourful, comfortable garments which can be layered and dressed up or down to suit a variety of weather conditions and occasions. I want women to feel joyful, hopeful, inspired, supported, empowered, and courageous when they wear my designs. My overall aims in creating the fashion line are to support people who suffer from mental illness (and their families and carers), to raise awareness of mental illness and the importance of maintaining good mental health, and to decrease the stigma that still exists around mental illness today.

What dreams do you have for the future of your practice?

After the initial launch of my slow fashion line through the CQ Shopfront program, I plan to continue periodically launching new garments and accessories for sale via my online shop, marketing them online via Instagram, Facebook, and email. I would also love to collaborate with other creatives from my local area and across Australia on projects for my slow fashion line. I have many plans and ideas and am so excited to have my first fabrics printed and garments made over the next few months!

As far as my abstract painting itself is concerned, I plan to continue to create, exhibit, and sell my original artworks, just as I have been doing up until now. I am currently completing an at-home artist’s residency through CQ RASN’s “Tough and Tender Beauty” project, exploring the effect that the Covid-19 pandemic and isolation to prevent the spread of the illness has had on artists’ mental health by creating artworks which explore the emotions I have felt during iso. Participating in the residency has been a profound experience for me, resulting in rapid artistic and personal growth. I am very much looking forward to further developing my artwork from the residency and showing it in my debut solo exhibition at Lewis Gallery in October 2020.

I would also dearly love to expand upon my mental illness advocacy work by doing some public speaking. I want so much to help my fellow sufferers by raising awareness and assisting to decrease the stigma in any way that I can. As I said earlier, it is something I feel incredibly compelled to do.

My overall long-term goal is to gain financial independence through my work as an artist and designer. I have always remained realistic about how difficult it is to earn a living as an artist solely by selling my original artworks, particularly in a regional area, and I have always planned to build various income streams into my business. I am working hard to make it happen. I love living on the Fraser Coast and have no intentions of moving. I love that my family is all here and I have some beautiful art friends here that I treasure immensely. I also love the peace and quiet, our beaches, our lifestyle, and the fact that I can get in my car and be at my daughter’s school or at the shops in ten minutes flat. Thanks to the internet, I don’t see why I can’t remain living and working here while I continue to grow my career. I am a big believer in that artists should be able to live and work in regional areas of Queensland and still have a thriving professional art career. Art is growing and thriving in our regions – it is becoming more appreciated by the public and more funding and programs are becoming available to artists. Shelley, you are a big part of that and I congratulate you wholeheartedly on the work you do to support regional artists via the CQ Shopfront program and The Ideas Distillery. I know that for me, CQ Shopfront has already been a transformational experience, one which I am certain will only become even more significant to me and to my career as I progress further through the program.

INSTAGRAM: @karenmandersen

FACEBOOK: Art by Karen M. Andersen

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