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Regional Artist Profile: Karen Chappelow

Regional Artist Profile: Karen Chappelow

Monique Boucher

“If my husband doesn’t like a new piece, I know I’m on the right track. I don’t run with the pack. I like to create a stir and hit someone in the feels.”

Sculptor and painter Karen Chappelow from Moondyne, swears by this formula, as she prepares for her upcoming solo exhibition in February 2021.

Karen’s style is expressionism-distortion, inspired by artists such as Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Modigliani and Picasso. Over her 20-year art career, Karen has built a network of collectors all around the world.

“Expressionism isn’t for everyone and I enjoy the quirky, unusual and weirdness of life which I think you can see in my work… You won’t find me painting landscapes I need to have an opinion.”

Pound of Flesh. Artwork by Karen Chappelow.

Much like Schiele, nude bodies are a heavy feature of Karen’s portfolio, distorted and mutated to introduce some humour and perspective to humankind’s obsession with body dysmorphia.

“Everybody is different, and every body  is different.”

Karen revels in taking old ideas and flipping them on their head, painting women in strong and powerful positions, challenging the age-old portrayal of always being naked, weak, and vulnerable. In doing so, she provides a fresh modern perspective on what it is to be masculine and feminine with a tongue in cheek kick.

Androgyny. Artwork by Karen Chappelow.

“By expressing the fierceness of a female, the ridiculous in a scenario that I paint, a message turned into humour to soften the blow breaking down barriers to acceptance.

In my early years I was a punk and that mentality still sits with me the non-conformity etc. I want to make people talk, sometimes shock but mostly smile and laugh when they view my work.”

Karen’s love of punk music has often fueled her work, helping her create disruption in the ordinary and inspiring her to offer people a different view of life. She leaves stories half told on a canvas, inviting the observer to form their own impression and create their own story. Her art challenges the norm and, though it is not for everybody, Karen says she receives “great joy” when locals ‘get’ her work.

Her surroundings in the Shire of Toodyay have also been a source of inspiration for Karen, prompting the creation of a series of whimsical and playful pieces of a range of bushrangers, including Ned Kelly.

BBQ at Ned’s. Artwork by Karen Chappelow.

Karen has also found, however, that the isolation of her residence can have a negative influence on her work.

“It can have a good and bad impact on my practice. Positive aspects include lending itself to introspection, calmness, peacefulness, and space. Negative aspects include the tyranny of distance, isolation, cost of materials, travel, freight, and a lack of an immediate audience – which sees me travelling quite a bit-taking myself to potential clients. I find less opportunities rurally due to the distance, population, and culture.”

A far cry from her days as an accountant, confined by rules and systems, Karen now relishes in shocking people with her art. Choosing now to draw outside the lines, Karen revels in the affect her art has on more conservative audiences, endeavouring to tear apart objects and characters society puts on pedestals and place them in silly situations to shine a light on the absurdity of it all.

Wonder Woman’s Day Off. Artwork by Karen Chappelow.

“I like it when I get a physical reaction from people when they view my art. The whimsy, fun and sometimes political nature of life is evident from time to time… The abstract nature of my work tries to blur the edges of reality and hopefully makes people smile, wonder and to think and create conversation – like squeezing a bit of lemon juice into a cut.”

Karen was moved by visual art at an early age, purchasing the first piece in her collection at only 16 years old. Not long after, she acquired a piece by prominent local WA artist, Murray Gill, who was her teacher at school. She fondly recalls putting it on layby, as she couldn’t afford it at the time. Consequently, Karen now allows people to layby her pieces, as she believes lovers of art sometimes need a bit of financial support.

Karen at Arts Toodyay event. Image by Simon Brewster.

During a challenging financial period in 1998, Karen bought an existing pottery business in the Swan Valley and, having never thrown a pot before, went on to create a very successful business supplying commercial pots to Bunnings and Waldecks, as well as artistic sculptural pieces to customers. She believes her love for the unusual began in earnest right there!

After selling the business, Karen’s husband – Simon Brewster – decided to build an art studio on their 110-acre property to support their shared passion to create art. Simon, an engineer by trade, has been designing furniture and sculpting for 20 years using wood and welding forms. Together the pair gather unused wood to create furniture and art works, supplying their customers with bespoke handmade pieces. They have called this retirement project, SiRen Products and Services.

Some of Karen and Simon’s work can be seen around their property, large wood sculptures covered in lights are exhibited at various locations around their lot, much to the shock of their neighbour who initially thought they were living next door to devil worshippers.

This dynamic duo also run one on one workshops on their property, offering participants the following options – pottery class, painting class, or make your own stretched canvas and frame (a particularly handy skill of Simon’s). The couple’s dream is to put two more houses onto their land and offer residencies to artists who wish to engage in their workshops in 2021.

The dynamic duo, Karen and Simon. Image by Karen Chappelow.

Karen also dabbles in rarely used techniques such as encaustic painting, an ancient medium first practiced in the 5th century B.C. by Greek artists. It is the oldest form of varnishing and helps preserve the piece. Karen creates depth and texture by using melted beeswax and paint in her work. She enjoys experimenting with this age-old technique by embedding objects into the wax and carving it too!

Recently, Karen collaborated with Kaye Guthrie Adonis (AKAartwear, a wearable art fashion label in Perth) to create art pieces for AKAartwear’s AW20 fashion collection. Kaye strives to work with artists with a point of view and a very strong aesthetic and, having spotted Karen’s talent a few years ago, is excited to embark on this project which will see Karen’s work pushed to the next level.

After numerous requests by friends and clients, Karen has delved further into making her art available as fine art reproductions. FoxLab Fine Art in Perth will be creating her works on acid-free, museum grade archival paper, which will prevent the work from bleeding or discolouring over time making it a worthwhile investment, as well as a fun alternative to purchasing original works.

Karen is looking forward to her upcoming solo exhibition at a secret venue in Perth in February 2021. She intends to thread a theme through her 2D paintings on canvas and her sculptures.

For more information about Karen’s art or to commission artworks, visit her website or follow her on social media – Facebook and Instagram. To contact Karen email chappy67@hotmail.com or call 0415 403 993

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