Personal vs. Actual

Sometimes there are moments in life where our experience of scenes and events, or our memory of them, doesn’t match up with their physical form. It’s tough to say which is more real—the way we perceive things, or the things themselves.

In her exhibition Tangled—on display until August 12 at Dawson City’s Confluence Gallery—Karen Thomas presents us with a series of drawings that clearly favor the personal aspects of human experience.

The drawings in Tangled feature scenes that could easily have been be plucked from the Dawson streets outside if the gallery, placed alongside other scenes and images that could only have been plucked from the imagination.

In the spirit of Dawson architecture, all of the works have been framed in worn, found wood of various hues and dimensions. Various media have been used, but black ink is prominent, and a few of the works are digital prints made onto the surface of drawing paper.

Thomas draws a hesitant line, but the imagery remains for the most part representational and proportional. Occasionally, however, you might see a playful gesture that manipulates the true-to-lifeness of the artist’s subjects.

Some of the works have a storybook quality to them, as if they were taken from an illustrated book without their accompanying words.

Aside from the recurring hints of life in Dawson, it’s hard to pinpoint time and place in Thomas’s work. Any one piece could be based on a memory, a historical photograph, or drawn yesterday on Third St.—a reminder that thoughts and memories aren’t accountable to time or place.

Despite the variety of styles and media, it’s clear that the artist is intent on sharing common ground with her audience.

We often think of all things “personal” as relevant to just one person, or only a small group of people. Tangled serves as a reminder that creating images is one way of bridging the gap between individuals—seeing things as another person sees them helps us to untangle our own experiences in the world.

Editor’s note: Andrew de Freitas had a chance to converse with Dawson artist Karen Thomas about her work. Here are some snippets of their exchange.

AdF: There seems to be a fascination with childhood emerging in these illustrations, you depict puppets and dolls, Sesame Street, and some figures that resemble children’s illustrations.

Is there a connection between this fascination and the subjects you depict in the rest of the work—the street scenes and portraiture?

KT: After I finished the drawing of the Mexican marionettes, I found it interesting how they looked like more than just wood, cloth and string. They looked like a couple tangled in a relationship, but not happy or elated to be there.

At the same time they looked like they were going to stay with each other, regardless, and had no intention of detangling.

It was at this time that I was applying for the show and I thought this would be an interesting theme—to compare illustrations of dolls and reproductions of us people, and see to what degree they speak to our experiences and conditions.

AdF: Does the exhibition represent a particular selection of drawings on the “tangled” theme, or is it a kind of overview of your work and styles?

KT: It is more an overview of my work over the past winter. I wanted to discipline myself and draw at least four hours a week to improve.

I chose ink because there is no room for erasing and I wanted to learn to trust my lines. The exhibition is a selection of some of my favorites.

Although the marionettes are to me the epitome of Tangled, I regret choosing this word as the title for the show. There are two other illustrations of couples in the show who don’t look “tangled” at all, just happy.

I believe to be truly happy in love or any relationship, you have to give of yourself without losing yourself. So “tangled” as a term is limited in describing relationships and social experiences.

This selection represents different relationships and experiences, not just tangled ones.

AdF: How did you come to illustration as a means of expression? Are there aspects of drawing that you find liberate you where, say, photographs are limiting? Are there aspects of drawing that limit your expression as well?

KT: When I was younger I focused on creating “accurate” illustrations. By this I mean almost photographic copies of what you see.

Because of this I never really enjoyed drawing and gave up on it for a long time. Now I am happy to find how liberating drawing can be when you don’t worry about this at all.

Through using a looser hand and intuition, a meaning or feeling can be conveyed rather that a perfect reproduction, and this can be so lovely.

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