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  /    /  Karen Stewart

Karen Stewart works in paint, paper and clay and makes bespoke jewellery from her studio in Cape Town. She loves working with off cuts and discarded bits and pieces, which she collect in my studio, she reshapes these to create new works and it this transformation that she says intrigues, delights and restores her.

Karen has wanted to be an artist since she was seven, and made art at an oil painter’s house in the 70s. The smell of oil paint always fills her with nostalgia. She studied her Masters at Stellenbosch University and specialised in botanical art. She is fascinated by the relationship between art and science and her thesis was an in depth look at how the colonial plant collectors both used indigenous knowledge to discover new plants but also systematically suppressed indigenous knowledge. She is still passionate about botanical art and curates exhibitions which promote the artform. She often works collaboratively and is proud of the work she did with Cara Savan on the CS&CO artists range of wall coverings.

“I seek to uncover the hidden, embrace the magical and find wonder in the small things in my work”.

Her art has been exhibited in Johannesburg, Lagos, Cape Town and Helsinki, and her work is in the prestigious Brenthurst Library and University of Stellenbosch’s Africana Library. Her work has been placed in corporate collections.

She is the author and designer of a book about creative facilitation entitled Boxcutter published by the Cape Craft and Design Institute.

What inspires your art?

My background is in design and my work is often inspired by design process and precise work. I am interested in the power art has to make us feel better about life, the world and ourselves and I always stive to make art that makes us feel good. I love the Dada, Bauhaus, Werkstaette and Impressionist movements especially. Their sponteneity and artists culture of meeting discussion and forming original ideas about art are very inspiring to me.

How do you translate your emotions into your artwork?

I think your hand is connected to your heart. When you work in a medium it is a pure expression of your inner workings. You connect with the medium and this connection is what makes the art speak to others.

Can you share a memorable moment or experience that influenced your artistic journey?

When I met Kendal Warreen and started taking clay classes with her 10 years ago – marked the start odf a deep creative journey for me. Also I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 and my work towards recovery was helped by my art. Althought I was very sick making art was such a santuary for me. It cryslatised for me how much I need to be a maker.

What message or feeling do you hope viewers take away from your work?

That there is much to celebrate and appreciate in the world.

How does your cultural background influence your artistic expression?

I am South African and we live in a country with many challenges. I worked with children in under privileged communities for many years and during this time I also started making art seriously. I found that I needed a quiet space where I could go to decompress and regain my energy.

What techniques or mediums do you use to convey your ideas?

I work in paper, clay and painting on canvas and board. I am a versatile artist and enjoy new challenges. I recently learnt tuffting and made a few rugs in the fun medium.

Are there any recurring themes or symbols in your art?

Art as a tool for healing, peace making and spreading a positive message about the human condition. I work with shape and you will see some shapes that I work with often.

Do you have a favourite piece of your own artwork, and if so, what makes it special to you?

Yes I made a series of sculptures called ‘Reconstruction’ they were made during my recovery. They were very challenging to make and many failed, the first one in the series is my favorite – it showed me how much knowledge I have accumulated about clay working with it for the past 10 years.

How do you engage with your audience through your art?

I make videos about my process that I post regularly and I also make posts about the way I make and publish new things happening in the studio.

Can you describe the process behind creating one of your recent works?

I work very spontaneously when I work with paper, I would say it is my most free medium. I start by selecting a colour palate and then I draw with the scissors and explore shape and colour. I move all the elements until I am 100% happy with the composition, and then I glue them into place and press them. I love this process I find it joyful and light.