A Bluethumb Success Story: Karen Lee
As the year continues to unfold in unpredictable ways, it’s important to acknowledge the unexpected silver linings when they present themselves. Events continue to be postponed and physical spaces remain closed. And yet, independent artists are still flourishing in their creative careers, with more of us turning to the stories and cultural significance within art. These are hits of success in testing times. In a recent article by The Guardian, Karen Lee’s Bluethumb success story recently came to the limelight – a story that deserves to be celebrated.
The calling to art has been ever-present through Karen Lee‘s memories. Since learning basic drawing technique as a child with her aunt, a watercolour artist herself, and throughout a career as a singing teacher, the desire to create had stirred quietly in the background. “In 2006, I took the step to do an arts degree, and that’s where it began,” Karen says.
Visual, historical and emotive cues form the perspective with which Karen Lee paints, combined with an inherent fervour for storytelling. “The artists that have influenced my art practice are also storytellers, either by their visual aesthetics or through their concepts.” Karen’s study of art didn’t stop after graduation; today she continues to learn through her practice stylistically and conceptually. “I have learnt to be vulnerable, to take risks, to believe in myself and to be grateful for this amazing opportunity to do what I love. That’s what I want people to connect with: the joy I feel when I paint.”
From her celebrated abstract landscapes to her children’s Aboriginal dreamtime, storytelling is the theme that cultivates Karen’s art practice. “I always ‘wonder’. I wonder who has been here before me and what events have happened in this space. Is this a happy space? Does this landscape hold sadness? Memory is a keeper of the past, its remnants catalogued in ourselves and our surroundings. My dreamtime story interpretations are purely imaginative visual compositions, playful and full of colour and a contemporary way of introducing a beautiful culture to a contemporary society. My art is not traditional, but it is a reflection of who I am as an Indigenous Australian in an urban society. I am also a thread between what has passed and the future of my culture and people.”
This year more than any before has shown online sales of Indigenous art surge, both for art centres across Australia and for independent Indigenous artists. Karen Lee’s success as an Aboriginal artist was recently highlighted in the Guardian. Karen attributed a chief reason for the growth in sales to the “raised awareness of the importance of culture and … an increased interest in the storytelling of Indigenous art.”
“I was grateful for the recent feature in the Guardian, including a couple of other features during that time. It was amazing exposure – just what any artist would appreciate – but it also came with a feeling of whether I was deserving of the attention. As an Indigenous Australian who is successful in their field, it is a common underlying thought that it wouldn’t have been possible without a ‘handout’. I hope that my art is received the way it is created; with joy and passion, and not with prejudice.
“I know there are many people that have an innate interest in Australian Indigenous culture and its art. My hope is that with this focus comes a greater understanding and a willingness to embrace and learn more about our culture and art. I definitely foresee a positive outcome for Aboriginal art communities and artists financially, but what can be learnt is just as valuable. Knowledge is a path to understanding and compassion.
Though her success may have felt unforeseen, Karen still has ambitions for the future looking ahead. “I visualise that one day I will have or be part of a large exhibition in a major gallery. I jokingly say it all the time – a girl can dream, can’t she? More importantly, I want to continue to create art that brings happiness to people’s homes and spaces.”