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karen stamper

karen stamper

My Grandma was a traveller and a collector. I would spend many hours of my childhood looking through her tins of trinkets, postcards with exotic stamps, tapestries and dolls from foreign lands; I was always more fascinated by the foreign newspaper wrapping a doll than by the doll itself. My Sunday night homework time would involve drawing and collaging, always to avoid the more tedious subjects. It was not long before my parents noticed this and, from an early age, encouraged me to keep a sketchbook, enter competitions and paint bright murals on walls around the garden.

Growing up on the east coast of Yorkshire as a happy beachcomber, I was attracted to the faded painted wood, scraps of gaudy plastic, brightly coloured fishing floats and nets: all sun dried, sand blasted, salted and weathered .My Dad’s passion was sailing, each Friday we would pack up and spend the weekend on the coast. I was free to wander, explore and collect only returning at mealtimes. This freedom set my path. Old boats, harbours, the sun-salty smell of tarpaulin and diesel, and the sound of halyards tapping on a mast are all comforting childhood memories. They have stayed with me and I still naturally gravitate towards the harbour in any coastal town.   

At Art College I was immediately draw to the dense flat colours of silk screen printing. It was on a college travel scholarship to Paris that I discovered turquoise shutters, red chequered tablecloths and curling iron balconies: shapes and colours so frivolous to me growing up in the worn, tough, solid fishing town of Hull. It was in Paris that I saw Matisse’s cut-outs for the first time; it wasn’t just the scale of his work but the colours, pin holes, crease lines and torn edges that fired my imagination.

After college and still on the trail of Matisse, I headed south until I came to bright blue skies, hot yellow beaches, long skinny palm trees and buildings glowing with the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. It was here that I felt at home, worlds away from a land of heavy ships, barges and docklands of my hometown. Like the warmth of sun baked sand underfoot, the heat began to seep into my soul; a lightness of spirit opened my eyes and my heart.

I wanted to bask in this bright light so I continued travelling to sunnier countries, working in Turkey, Greece, France, India, Morocco, the Caribbean, eventually settling in New Zealand before returning to the UK ten years later.

Along the way, I crewed and raced on yachts, painted scenery for Indian celebrations, taught art to Polynesian boys, worked as a freelance illustrator and a tour guide and all the time constantly sketching and collecting a rich resource of tickets, labels, packaging, stamps, paper bags and scraps of lettering; each one telling its own story; scraps of city life ready to become the first layers of a collage

I am drawn to old places and new people (and boat yards!), to the colours and the light of the Mediterranean, Morocco and India, all of which are implicit in my art. Working in collage, combining the found papers with layers of brightly painted tissue to create a vibrant integrated surface, reflects my life and travels: a patchwork of places and people bonded together; some fading, some peeling, some permanent; all full of joyful colour and happy memories. My aim is to remind the viewer of warmer climates of intense colours and exotic smells, hazy zapping heat and sun scorched walls.

The slick, the shiny and new makes little impression on me; it is the dusty aging back streets that draw my attention. When sketching quietly on a shady step I can breathe in the smell of clean washing and morning coffee, listen to the chit chat of everyday banter across the street and absorb the glaring sunlit walls against deep shadows and patches of intense blue sky. My sketchbooks are a memory bank, not just the scene in front of me but all around; the shop owner who moved all the rickshaws to give me a better view, the chai seller who brought me piping hot tea and the heady smell of jasmine in a Moroccan courtyard are all of equal importance.

To me life is a collection of experiences; I need to collect, layer and absorb the places I visit, the colours and the countries are embedded in my artwork and in me. The visual energy of composition, colour and surface of my work feed my soul. From beach comber to city comber; I am always seeking, gathering, arranging, sorting, storing, enriching and sticking.



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