Karlee Rawkins is an artist known for her use of colour and composition. Focus recently sat down at her studio, to find out more about her career and where she finds inspiration for her work.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I have enjoyed living here for eight years now. I work in my studio, a converted shed, in beautiful Gleniffer, and I am also one of the co-ordinators at Big Fig Arts in Bellingen, organising exhibitions and creative workshops there.
Could you briefly describe how you became involved in visual arts?
I was always drawing and lost in imagination as a child. I loved art and went straight from high school on to study visual arts at uni. I have been a practising artist since then. I was greatly encouraged by my lecturers, and I won some major awards early on; these allowed me to really progress and quickly gain recognition.
I won The Brett Whitely Travelling Art Scholarship in 2003, and this involved spending five months in the Art Gallery of NSW Studio in Paris and then travel around Europe. This was an incredible opportunity and experience for a young artist; this journey gave me confidence and a strong sense of myself as an Aussie painter.
Can you briefly describe your current project?
I am currently working on a series of works for an exhibition with Linton & Kay Galleries in Perth. This will be a big show and involves fifteen large paintings and a collection of drawings.
As an artist, how would you describe your style and approach to a subject?
My work is recognised for its colour and bold composition; typically, my subjects are birds, animals and trees. I build up layers with pattern and leave areas exposed to reveal previous brush marks. My paintings are very intuitive. The composition moves and shifts as I work; this movement is recorded and adds to the texture and meaning of each piece. I am interested in documenting my creative process, as much as depicting a certain animal or plant.
I tend to weave a mix of references through my work, from mythological and autobiographical associations to more practical biological details. I am interested in what defines a particular animal or plant, how we recognise it and identify with it, what emotions and stories can come with it.
Where do you find inspiration?
Nature is the biggest inspiration for me. I take note of the colour arrangements and patterns I see, often using them in particular works. Mother Nature knows how to combine colours. I am inspired by the markings of animals, the plumage of birds, the change of scenery along a road trip and the tones of a landscape through different seasons.
I regularly look at folk arts, vintage fabrics and medieval tapestries and prints for inspiration too. I often borrow specific motifs and patterns to replicate in my work. I have a particular interest in pattern and how it is used in religious, psychedelic and compulsive arts.
Music is a big influence. I listen to a lot of music in my studio to keep me motivated, and often particular lyrics or moods will find their way into my work. Often I choose a sound track for a series of work and listen to the same album relentlessly – I think that adds to the flavour of the work I am doing. I have often titled paintings after songs or lines. I did an entire show based on the Bluegrass song Big Rock Candy Mountain a while ago.
The events and emotions of my life have always been documented to some degree in my paintings, but my journey as a mother has become the most major and long running theme in my work. My son, who is an amazing seven year old boy with Down Syndrome, and my experience as a parent are proving to be a very rich source of inspiration for my work. I use metaphors and archetypal imagery to explore topics as diverse as genetics, strength, beauty, nostalgia and higher concept ideas such as surrender, enlightenment and sacredness.
What artists do you admire and draw influence from?
One of the biggest influences on my work has been many of the artists associated with Outsider Art, that is essentially untrained, uninfluenced and often marginalised or institutionalised artists. I am attracted to the spontaneity and obsessive mark making demonstrated in these works; there is often a raw, compulsive and very strong communication of emotion and process. Discovering the work of Adolf Wolfli expanded my scope and sense of what can be invented and documented in an art practice. Other artists I would have to mention are Bill Traylor, Henry Darger, Ilija Bosilj and Judith Scott.
If you could live anywhere in the world to experience a specific period of art, which would you choose and why?
I wouldn’t mind hanging out in the art scene of Australia in the 1960s and ‘70s. I think that was a really dynamic time, and many artists were exploring and defining how to paint our landscape in a beautiful and visceral way. I love the idea of an outdoor painting session with Fred Williams, Arthur Boyd or John Olsen. Maybe a picnic and a chat too!
What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking up art either as a profession or a hobby?
As an industry, the arts can be very fickle and economically vulnerable – there is definitely no certainty that effort and time will be rewarded. Working as an artist takes an incredible amount of self discipline and motivation. It involves long hours in the studio and can be an isolating activity. However, I think the arts are a very satisfying and inspiring occupation.
I feel completely blessed to be able to pursue my practice, to be creative … It is a very
progressive and engaging profession.
I think the arts generally are under-appreciated and under-supported in Australia. The arts are essential to a dynamic and progressive culture; it can add so much benefit, prosperity and health to a community.
What have been some of the favourite works you have created?
I greatly enjoy working on my larger paintings; they are over two metres in length. These are always my favourite to work on – it’s an aerobic activity just to get one coat of paint on! I limit how many I do, as they are challenging to move, courier and hang and can only fit in larger homes or corporate spaces. I just love working on that scale, though. I have painted bears, owls, roosters, deer, eagles and a series of different trees in that size.
What are your plans for the future?
I have my big show coming up at the end of the year over in Perth, so all my energy is focussed on that at the moment. I am also negotiating new Sydney representation and looking at making international connections, particularly in Asia.
I have really been enjoying working with Big Fig Arts; this is a fantastic complement to
the solo pursuit of my studio practice, allowing me to connect with other artists and interact with the community. I particularly enjoy the mentoring and hosting of classes, and we have plans to expand our programme. We also have further projects underway with artists with a disability; this is an area that I am particularly passionate about. We have been working with the Open Arms Care art programme and have an exhibition coming up mid year that features their work.
Where can people find out more about you and your art?
My website www.karleerawkins.com.au or my work can be found at the galleries representing me, Anthea Polson Art at the Gold Coast, Flinders Lane Gallery in Melbourne or
Linton & Kay Galleries in Perth. I am also active on Instagram and Facebook.
I have some works in a couple of local shows. Creature Feature is a group show with an animal theme, on show now until the 26th June at The Bellingen Brewery & Co., up Church Street Lane in Bello. I also have a series of lotus flower inspired paintings hanging in the beautiful Hyde Bellingen. I rarely show locally, so this is a good opportunity to see my works in person at the moment.