Karen Stephens: The Artificial Horizon

“Reality is no longer defined by time and space but by a virtual world in which technology allows the existence of the paradox of being everywhere at the same time while being nowhere at all.”

Paul Virilio

Australians, perhaps more than most people, tend to view themselves by their relationship to the landscape and the feeling of how we exist in relation to the environment around us – whether the beach, the bush, or the stark empty desert. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the vast and continuing canon of Australian landscape painting, which provides a perennial source of negotiation and reflection on Australian identity. From the intimate relationship with the land held by First Nations peoples, to early colonial artists who documented the extraordinary flora and fauna, through to Shaun Gladwell’s haunting video and performance works of life in the urban landscape, Australian artists continue to depict an intrinsic sense of place and evolving portrait of ourselves.


Tiger Pear Cactus (Conglomerate Mounted) and Black Box 2017

Karen Stephens’s innovative practice situates her firmly within this legacy. Evoking luminaries such as Fred Williams, John Olsen and Brett Whiteley, her paintings capture Queensland’s terrain and spirit with a style that incorporates figuration, abstraction and landscape. Yet these works are also profoundly modern, embracing the influence technology has had on the connection between people and land. Where traditional genre paintings highlight vast, romantic panoramas, Stephens’s landscapes are tight and intense, dominated by bold plant-like extrusions and swirling tendrils of line and colour.


Landscape as Mirror I 2017

Informing this view of the landscape is Stephens’s use of a smart phone to record her travels and impressions. Distracted from looking, Stephens’s concentration favours what is inside the screen, creating a world that is suddenly myopic and devoid of any perceptible location from which to orient herself. Though the resultant works capture the dramatic, often extreme, beauty of the land, so too do they disorient space, existing in a new dimension created by artificial horizon lines and windows of vision that collapse the sensation of place and distance. Impressionistic and subjective, Stephens’s explorations question what constitutes landscape when the environment itself is no longer discernible.


Only the Corners Remain (conglomerate) 2017

Karen Stephens is an emerging artist from regional Queensland. Graduating in 2017 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honors) from Griffith University/Queensland College of Art, her research and practice explores mediated horizons to extend the field of landscape painting. Awarded the Flying Art Alliance Art for Life Award in 2015, she was a 2016 finalist in both the inaugural Elaine Bermingham National Watercolour Prize and the Redlands Art Prize. Her work has been exhibited throughout Queensland as part of the 2016 Queensland Regional Art Awards exhibition Colours of Queensland, and in 2018 she will undertake a residency at the Margaret Olley Centre, Tweed Regional Gallery.

Catalogue Essay

Karen Stephens
The Artificial Horizon: A New Dimension of Landscape
Project Gallery, Queensland College of Art
226 Grey Street, South Bank, Brisbane
30 April – 5 May 2018

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