Karen Thomas (b.1963) is acclaimed world-wide for her pop-culture figures and loosely dynamic painting style. While her infamous superhero collections reconstruct well-known characters’ identities with wild expressionism, her postcard collectibles transpose celebrities into small, but utterly enigmatic portraits. In doing so, Thomas has created a distinguished style, recognisable for its thick and vivacious brushstrokes. We speak with the painter about her practice and recent projects.
A:Your pieces portray images of pop culture icons and super hero characters. Are you still finding new additions to your collection or have you been inspired by a new theme?
KT: Yes, I add pieces as I go along but have started working on a series of paintings I’m calling Figurer le féminin, American beauties, English Roses and Femme Fatales, drawn from the fashion pages of magazines, film or music.
A: Last time we spoke you had just released a series of collective postcard size images. Are you still working on this smaller scale?
KT: I like to work on a variety of sizes and supports. I’m quite chaotic, trying out any number of things at a time. I’ll work on an image several times, discarding it and repainting it until I’m satisfied. I have been experimenting with different papers and unstretched canvases, cutting and pinning them on the wall which gives me more flexibility.
A: You previously published a book illustrating an unpublished text of Jean Cocteau and another for the Parce Que Collection. How does the experience of illustrating compare to your new postcard series?
KT: Both artists’ books were produced in collaboration with Guy Barral and Les Editions Luis Casinada. The opportunity to work on the unpublished text by Cocteau, A Shelley, was a real privilege; the book is now part of the Fonds Cocteau and was included in the 2012 exhibition Cocteau, Images et Multiples at the Musée Fabre, Montpellier. I was free to work as I liked for both books with just a few technical constraints. For the Cocteau I produced large scale black and white originals which were then printed and hand coloured. The Mallarmé illustrations are reproductions but each copy of the book contains a small original painting . The postcard collectibles are all originals which have been used for different purposes; they have been sold for charity, used in advertising space on the London underground and New Orleans with Art Below and exhibited at the RA Summer exhibition in 2014. My paintings have often been used for illustration but I don’t consider myself to be a real illustrator
A: Are there any new projects on the horizon? Where can we expect to see your work displayed in 2016?
KT: Art Below Pop-up in New Orleans, Open studio in April, Red Propeller, Uk and Nimmesgernstarnberg, Germany.
Art Below Pop-up in New Orleans, The Other Art Fair, London/Bristol.
Open studio in April, Red Propeller, UK and Nimmesgernstarnberg, Germany.
1. Photography by Richard Sprang