Karen Green is hot. So hot she’s painted herself bright pink and, with her wicked sense of humour, has pronounced she’s delighted with the results.
A Canberra artist who established her professional practice in 2000, Karen submitted a self-portrait for this year’s Archibald Prize, entitled At Fifty: A Self-Portrait 2018 (acrylic on canvas). Although she didn’t make the finalist list just announced, Karen says the work achieved what it was meant to be for her as an artist.
“Turning 50 is a celebration of my age,” says Karen. “Yes, the pink symbolises the hot flushes women experience during menopause, but it’s not a negative for me. It’s liberating to no longer have to worry about some aspects of life and I wanted to capture that in an artistic sense.”
Karen, a self-taught artist, runs Karen Green Artist. “I learned from the school of life and have been painting and drawing ever since I can remember,” says the artist. “I studied art at college but then life took a turn and I pursued a modelling career instead.”
“My art has a feminist bent,” says Karen. “I very much focus on women, expectations around women and how we’re supposed to look when ageing. I’m also motivated by human rights and social justice issues and inspired by people who seek to do good in the world. While I often use myself to describe the narrative in my art, I’ve painted portraits of others too.”
At Fifty: A Self-Portrait celebrates many aspects of Karen’s life. She adores fashion and has a lifelong passion for dresses. “Every year I buy my ‘Christmas dress’ and have a collection of ones I’ve worn throughout the years. In 2017, I wanted something special for my 50th birthday and so the hunt began. Colour is important to me so I looked for a celebration dress that was magnificent in colour.”
Karen was aware of designer Yumi Morrissey’s work, having admired her fashion for some years. She initially wore one of Yumi’s dresses in a photo shoot for the Silk Road Gallery in Kingston and has bought several since. For this self-portrait, Karen reached out to Yumi, who runs independent label Zilpah tart, and discovered her collection featuring flowers from Floriade, entitled ‘Garden Paradise‘ and initially showcased on the catwalk at Fashfest.
“I saw a photo of a dress featuring gorgeous, colourful tulips and asked Yumi if she could alter the design slightly for me. She agreed. I thought it was perfect because the pattern is all about spring and new beginnings and new cycles,” said Karen. “It reflected what was a big moment in my life and gave me the chance to celebrate the work of another talented Canberra woman. It just all came together.”
“I love how Karen has interpreted the tulips of the original print,” says Yumi. “They look so alive and like they’re moving. They look so vibrant. I was so excited when I saw the self-portrait and am thrilled my work has been inspirational to Karen.”
Also featured in the self-portrait is bright lipstick, which Karen herself makes through her relatively new lipstick business called JustLippy. “I’ve always loved lipstick because it makes life a little brighter and am known for my signature red lips,” says Karen laughing. “Over the years, I’ve worked in cosmetics and started making handmade lipsticks locally.”
In her self-portrait, Karen stands strong with her arms crossed. “I’m embracing myself but with a slight sense of defiance. I’m doing my own thing and don’t really give a toss,” says the artist. “I just feel good about life.”
The Archibald Prize is awarded annually to the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’. It’s an open competition and judged by the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW.