Karen Black: An Ordinary Poetry

(Business Lounge Journal – Art)

“I place scenarios in historical situations and talk about political narratives mixed with contemporary ideas. I think that sort of meshes everything together in the work.” – Karen Black

Karen Blacks’s paintings explore loaded socialand individual narratives that blend the historicalwith the mythical, traversing the complex interchangebetween the personal and the political. Recently Black mathematically scaled up ceramic forms based on 3rd and 4th century Syrian small fragile glass vessels from the Istanbul Archaeological Museum that have miraculously outlived centuries of conflict, making them her canvases for painting. Broken ceramic works in the studio became troublesome studio detritus, forced under pressure by their fragile architecture to fracture and displace. These shapes now inform the compositions of new paintings taken back to a flat surface. Exploring themes of war, the paintings reference time, history and culture.

In 2015, Black returned from a stint at the Turkish/Syrian border where she worked with Syrian refugees under the umbrella of the Karam Foundation’s Zeitouna mission. Black says: “the mission was led by over 30 mentors traveling from around the world, serving over 350 Syrian students who are currently displaced along the Syrian/ Turkish border. Seeing first hand the devastating impact of the war on the children and families of Syria is certain to have an impact on the new work I am making. It was great to connect with Lina Sergie on the mission, to be on the ground on the Syrian border and to hear stories first hand from children and translators of their experiences, to learn how this is affecting their everyday lives.”

Karen Black, 2017

Karen Black, 2017

“There is an atmosphere of fear and despair in Black’s work, the direct result of her contact with people who are suffering in the face of a politics-gone-mad of war zones, where there is no honour and no relief for its innocent victims.

There is an atmosphere of fear and despair in Black’s work, the direct result of her contact with people who are suffering in the face of a politics-gone-mad of war zones, where there is no honour and no relief for its innocent victims. Black’s worth as a painter is her ability to couch these threats in terms of beauty. Like the Islamic art from the Umayyads to the Ottomans she recently saw at the Istanbul Museum, her work seems to address current issues but with the grace of an ancient thinker.

For Karen Black, expanding her painting practice to encompass ceramics was a combination of muscle memory and steep learning curve. “I’d never worked with clay before, but I’d always worked with my hands, making thing. It felt really natural to me,” explains Black, who worked making props and costumes for theatre and opera for many years before turning her hand to oil paint and canvas in the late 2000s.

Her ceramic practice mirrors and complements her painting practice, in which she unfurls personal and political narratives through loosely figurative tableaux.

Karen Black, 2017

Karen Black, 2017

Black’s first solo exhibition at Sullivan+Strumpf Singapore opens 25 November 2017

Prosaic moments are arrested in time and inspected from every angle, through shifting light and frames of mind – time here stretches and folds. Following an ankle fracture, the artist’s experience of time and ordinary tasks was recomposed, altering the tempo of life’s banalities. Bed became, for some time, her vantage point from which to observe the world outside as well as her internal world. Both worlds are imbedded in these works that become complete self-portraits, depicting the body in all its worldly relations.

An Ordinary Poetry marks a shift in Black’s oeuvre towards a more contained self-portraiture. Where her paintings have often depicted or glimpsed the self as a fgure within their tableaus, here the self has an unmitigated presence. Her incantations of the psyche and theatre of the mundane is at once comic, grotesque and exceptionally delicate. The exhibition’s two largest works, Walking Blind and Table Manners (both acrylic and oil on linen, each 210 x 200 cm), are the same size as a set of louvres that the artist looked out of every day from her bed, watching fowers fall to the ground, the ebbs of weather, and the movements of the mind. Table Manners depicts the feeling of a family dinner eaten with one’s leg on the table, whilst Bed Mess (acrylic and oil on linen, 152.5 x 122 cm) is the incantation of a bed where one drifts through sleep and memories, losing track of days.

Karen Black: Walking Blind

Karen Black: Table Manners

This series of fifteen new paintings presented within an installation of folded, dropping canvases, is a generous and intimate self-portrait of how it feels to live in the world as a human body, and the joy and tedium of taking care of oneself.

Karen Black, 2017

Karen Black

Karen Black

About Karen Black

In 2017 Karen Black was a finalist in the prestigious Sir John Sulman Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, as well as presenting a solo installation of ceramics for the Sidney Myer Australian Ceramic Award at The Shepparton Art Museum in Victoria. Black is also the recipient of an Artspace One Year Studio in Sydney in 2017.

Karen Black has exhibited widely in international exhibitions and art fairs. Recent solo exhibitions include Making Do, Sydney Contemporary (2015); and Piece of Wood, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney (2015). Black has also presented solo exhibitions at ARTHK12, Hong Kong (2012); Art Fair Tokyo (2012); Art Stage Singapore (2011); and Art Taipei (2011), as well as being included in the Global Spotlight Artists at Art Taipei that year. Recent group exhibitions include Shut up and Paint, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2016); Painting. More Painting, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2016); Borders, Barriers, Walls, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2016); The Gold Award, Rockhampton Art Gallery, Queensland (2016); and Glazed and confused, Ceramics in Contemporary Art Practice, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Gymea (2015).

Black has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the Belle Art Prize, 2014; Art & Australia/Credit Suisse Contemporary Art Prize, 2013; and Grifth University Art Gallery’s GAS Award, 2011. Black’s work can be found in numerous public collections including The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; The Australian War Memorial, Canberra; Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; the Grifth University Art Gallery, Brisbane; Artbank, Sydney; the Macquarie Group Collection; and the Salsali Private Museum, Dubai.

Sullivan+Strumpf Singapore/VMN/BLJ

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