Karlee Rawkins

Rhonda's Magic Garden

May 24 - June 21 2014

Widely travelled and now living in the mountainous region between Bellingen and Dorrigo, Karlee Rawkins is acutely aware of how the human, spiritual and natural worlds are intrinsically related. Her paintings demonstrate the interconnectedness of all things and offer us a visual and spiritual nourishment in the viewing of them.

All of Rawkins’ series of paintings have been created with an imagined location in mind: the forest, the orchard, a meadow. She describes them as psychological spaces rather than actual places. In her current body of work the locale has been scaled down to the smaller, more intimate realm of a garden. Here the focus has turned inward to a place of gestation - a place of magic, potentiality and transmutation.

Rawkins chanced upon a title for her upcoming exhibition when out for a walk with a friend who was curious about the subject of her new works. In passing through a local caravan park they were taken by the ornamental gardens that some of the more permanent residents had established to enhance their personal environs. Amidst the collection of pot plants, statuettes and “odd little objects” Rawkins spotted a plaque - ‘Rhonda’s Magic Garden’. “I connected this to my interest in talismans and amulets and how we protect and decorate with them,” says Rawkins. It seemed the perfect title as those words had a simple appeal that softened the deeply esoteric concerns that underpin her paintings. “I liked the tone that the name Rhonda suggests,” she continues, “it’s also a nod towards what I call my ‘nana aesthetic’ - an appreciation for vintage fabrics which are still a definite influence in my work.”

“My ongoing research into various folkloric customs found a parallel between the traditions of magic and an artistic practice,” reflects Rawkins. She describes the creative process as akin to that of magic and the mythic in its journeying into unseen worlds to bring forth archetypal imagery that has the power to reach others. “The works function not just as paintings but also as talismans, protective devices or charms for a specific aspect of life.” Rawkins goes on to explain how she designed the imagery to relate to the both the personal and the age-old universal themes of love, fertility, mothering, travel and death. “As the starting point or stimulus, I select a plant, a creature and other factors of interest, like colours or symbols associated with the particular theme and attempt to combine them all into one painting. Each work then becomes a magic charm or potion; my own personal concoction of imagery that generates a talisman.”

“The line between recognition and ambiguity is explored in my art making process. I am interested in giving enough visual detail to allow the identification of a subject while leaving it loose and open enough for the viewers to bring their own associations as well,” Rawkins muses. The painting, Little Hawk Fights Back, was created as a talisman for the letting go of fear and uncertainty. Ancient Egyptian depictions of hawk-headed deities such as Horus, God of the Sky, provided the initial impetus for the image. With wings tipped in an autumn leaf pattern Rawkins had found on an old ‘tree of life’ motif, Little Hawk takes flight, leaving all worldly concerns behind.

Created as a travel charm, the Daisy Chain work depicts a snake that sprouts leaves and yellow flowers as it curls across a blue expanse. Both snakes and daisies have protective connotations in certain traditions. From the old Anglo Saxon ‘daes eage’ (day’s eye), the word daisy references the way the flower’s petals open just as a new day is about to begin. Vesta in the Mint is a painting celebrating fertility. “I named my owl ‘Vesta’ after the Roman Goddess of domesticity and fertility. The colours and line work are borrowed from an ancient painting of her,” reveals Rawkins. Eggs invariably symbolise fertility and she has given her owl three of them. Mint too is associated with fecundity and so Rawkins has Vesta’s nest arrayed in a pattern inspired by her own mint patch. 

Besides the very meaningful content in her works, what makes Rawkins an artist of note is the utter confidence in her wielding of the brush and linear markings. An intuitive investigator of form, Rawkins amplifies the symbolic substance through abstraction and distortion. “I enjoy the intrigue or even discomfort that an ambiguous composition may bring. I like to record my painting process as honestly as possible; to catch the creative moment in the application of paint. This is what I find thrilling in other artists’ work and is the main factor behind a connection for me.”

Karlee Rawkins attained a Bachelor of Arts (Contemporary Art) with Honours in 1999 at the University of Southern Queensland and the Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW. In 2003 she won the fifth Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship which afforded her five months at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris and travel to New York, London, Portugal and Spain. Rawkins was a Fishers Ghost Art Award finalist 2012 and Prometheus Art Award finalist 2007, 2005. She was a recipient of the Pat Corrigan Artists’ Grant 2001 and the William Fletcher Trust Grant 1999.


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