Karen Black's paintings remind us how convincing paint can be; her surfaces demand close, sustained inspection. Shadows are clues for eyes, negative space shifts into limbs, glazed pools of colour collect as faces. Her work plays with its own contradictions; guration and abstraction become useful alternates for history and myth, which collude on the painted surface as they do in life. If contemporary abstraction forms an image of how the world feels, then Black is all abstract. Time, both contemporary and historical, is shaken and stirred and settles momentarily here; developed, gently printed, but unfixed.
The familiarity we feel in the presence of Karen’s work is arcane but certain. Recent works like Bed mess, Floating dream, Body shell, and Table manners recall duty, illness, the strange proximity of motherhood and childhood and, particularly, the betrayal of our own bodies. In the spectral shadows and shifting parameters of Karen’s work, we see a skilled yet automatic hand that might claim to outsource creativity to a higher power. We think of the Spiritualists, of the bright and ecstatic palette of Hilma Af Klint, the maudlin faces of the symbolist painter Odilon Redon. Each one of Karen’s paintings seems part of a larger whole.
Karen’s subjects [call them women or flowers or the artist herself] refuse equivalence and identification, both acts that erase meaningful difference. They are forged in the artist’s own manifold experience—but they emerge historically. Karen Black is a 2017 ARTSPACE Sydney One Year Studio Artist.