Southwold artist Karen SJ Keable dreams of life by the sea
- Credit: Archant
Southwold artist Karen SJ Keable is someone who has a life-long love affair with the sea. Her latest exhibition I Dream of the Sea is her first in more than two years and marks her 15th anniversary as a professional artist.
Karen has lived and worked in Southwold since the turn of the century but has painted and drawn all her life. Although born breathing in the sea air in Great Yarmouth she travelled extensively before settling in north Suffolk.
She painted and taught art workshops in Singapore, Bangkok, Australia and Norway as she accompanied her husband Kevin to various work-related postings.
But, it was an extended stay in Aberdeen which enabled her to translate her self-taught love of taught into a formal qualification when enrolled in Gray’s School of Art.
It was her arrival in Southwold when her career really took off. “It was Mary Gundry who first promoted me as a professional artist. She came to my house in Southwold for a drinks party and during the course of the evening, she asked: ‘Who are these paintings by?’ and I said they were my paintings.
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“Mary ran The Southwold Gallery at the time, I think this was in 2000, and I had just given birth to my daughter Olivia I said that being a new Mum I didn’t have a lot of time but she put them in her gallery and they sold really quickly.”
Karen says that she has always painted with her heart. As a result her work has always revolved around the sea and captures that intoxicating mix of freedom and fresh air.
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“For me I really enjoy painting the sea and I get a lot of satisfaction from that. I find that I can explore the subject in greater depth because I am so familiar with it. It is something I really enjoy and can naturally paint. For this exhibition I have done some other things like the collection of Norfolk Show paintings just to offer some variety but what I really love is painting the coast and Southwold, in particular.
“Occasionally I do people but it takes me a lot longer to get it right. I love painting seascapes and beach scenes because I love the added details and the textures. I love the rust on objects and the paint flaking off the boats. Also you can pile up the paint and the surface becomes very textural.”
Karen says her daily conversation with the sea is part and parcel of who she is. “I grew up by the sea so its quite natural for me. I went to Great Yarmouth Grammar School which was just off the sea front – cross country was always running up and down the dunes. During the summer holidays we practically lived down there. The sea was our swimming pool – we didn’t take towels – Dad made us run up and down the beach to dry off. So that early childhood experience has informed my love for the sea.
“There is something with painting with blues which I find both relaxing and uplifting. Also the light on the coast is that much brighter and sharper. There is a freshness to the world on the coast. I work hard at capturing the special nature of light in my seascapes – that is something that lies at the heart of my work.”
She is also a huge admirer of East Anglia’s great sea painter Maggi Hambling. “I adore Maggi’s work. I don’t paint as freely as Maggi but aspire to capture the spirit of her work with the sea.”
So has her work changed over the years?
“I think my approach to art has developed and evolved. When I look back I think some of my earlier work appears quite flat – now I think the detail is more defined, the paint is thicker and I do some bold strokes of colour that perhaps I wouldn’t have done before. I think the biggest change is size. I now enjoy creating the really big paintings which I wouldn’t have done when I started out. I love working on a large scale.
“Certainly my work has evolved but I haven’t purposefully pushed it in any particular direction. I think a lot of it is confidence and a belief in yourself. You have to build that confidence because when you have an exhibition you are laying yourself on the line. It is a stressful time because you are full of doubt and uncertainty. You are asking yourself: ‘Will anyone come?’ ‘Will they like the work?’ You are really putting yourself out there and I always say ‘This is the last time I am putting myself through this’ and of course I always come back for more.”
And for future ambitions she would love to create a book containing a retrospective of her work. “I would love to do a coffee table book collecting together my work from over the years. I have a good archive of images plus I keep a record of who has bought what, so that would be a nice thing to have.”
As for the immediate future, it involves getting up every morning, going into her studio and being re-inspired by the world around her. “I love what I do. It is a job but I am lucky because it doesn’t feel like a job. I can relax as I paint and lose myself in my work. I love what I do.”
Karen SJ Keable’s exhibition I Dream of the Sea is at The Southwold Gallery from March 24 to April 17.