As a followup to her recent Stripped Back exhibition and launch evening, I visited photographer and artist Karen McBride at her apartment and studio.
We talked about the Stripped Back event. All those who attended agree it was a big success. There was live music, an interview with Karen, her iconic photos were on display, both music photography and a few subtle and artistic nudes. She also exhibited a couple of paintings. I wasn’t aware that she was an artist before she became a photographer and has a lot of experience drawing and painting on canvas.
The works she had on display used a semi-abstract style of painting, often made using fingers, with thick layers of multi-colour paint. One of them was a mixed media image that included a photographic nude image. Others are entirely abstract, with shades of one or two famous painters.
As we were chatting she mentioned that she was planning to do something with a photographic canvas she’d bought it in a second hand shop.
It was a striking photograph depicting a field of lavender, but over time she’d grown tired of it and wanted to re-use the canvas for something new. I didn’t quite understand what she had in mind. It involved covering it with emulsion paint.
She brought in the canvas which measures about three feet by two, and placed it on a large plastic sheet on the floor. Then she got a paint of standard white emulsion paint that was left over after decorating.
She poured the paint onto the canvas and started to spread it around on the surface of the photographic canvas with a sponge. Soon the image was mostly covered and some areas the emulstion started to dry. Then she got some glitter – blue and red and sprinkled it onto the canvas. With her hands she started to move the glitter around, dragging lines with her fingers.
Then came gold paint which she poured onto the surface. The obvious and superficial comparison was with Jackson Pollock, but this was something quite different.
She spent a few more minutes dragging her fingers across the wet and drying emulstion, and then took the canvas and hung it on the wall.
We chatted some more and then she went back to it. ‘Come and have a look at this,’ she said and I looked. Something extraordinary was happening. The emulsion paint was drying and cracking, like an old master. The gold paint had cut through the layer of emulsion paint and was interacting with the original colour of the photograph underneath. Weird shapes, colours and patterns were emerging.
In the upper right, there was what looked like cut or opening with lips, and through it there was a shadowy cityscape or maybe a scene from a 1930s surrealist painting by Max Ernst. Another blob of silver paint had turned blue with a drop running down, giving the impression of a balloon in flight.
Standing back, there was an energy on the canvas movement from left to right and upwards, a sense of something being set free.
In some areas of the canvas, there were strange shapes, faces, animal-like figures. It was a bright image, feminine, sky blue with glitter but with a few darker areas.
The slow moving drips began to congeal. Just an hour or so after the emulsion was first poured, an artwork had come into being, as good if not better than many I’ve seen in private galleries, maybe on the walls of famous museums.
Is it less of an artwork because it was created so quickly and without any premeditation? I don’t think so. The important thing is the uniqueness and integrity of the artwork and the body of work of which it’s a part. So far I’ve seen only a small body of work but I hope to see more.