In the latest in a series of interviews with Fierce Nice's partner artists, Kildare-based artist Karen Hickey joins Ruan Shiels for a discussion about her art, selling paintings to tech giant Google, exhibiting at the Electric Picnic and Waterford Walls festivals, and lots more besides.
Thanks for joining me for this interview, Karen. Can I start by asking you to introduce yourself and talk a bit about your background?
I have been drawing and doodling my whole life, always people, faces, families, and telling stories. It was a natural habit and I don’t feel that I put much value in it until I was much older. I attended many workshops in portraiture and life drawing in the background and eventually undertook Life Painting at NCAD in 2016. The colour arrived then and I think that changed everything!
How would you describe your art in your own words?
My work is very much a free expression. I love to make fast lines initially and will often use 'blind drawing' when I start a piece. I guess it is abstract, colourful and expressive and tells a story or draws you into finding out about the character.
Which artists do you most admire? And have they or others influenced your work?
The first painter that influenced and inspired me was Amadeo Modigliani; I loved his really interesting approach to portraits. I also love Matisse, Sheile, Klimt and Van Gogh. I really admire the colour choices, shapes and designs of all of these painters.
What does your workspace or studio look like?
I work from home which is really convenient considering that I have 3 children and a very busy household. Luckily I can paint in my studio in the garden.
Can you describe your process and how you go about planning and executing a painting?
I work from photos and am especially interested in vintage black and whites. I save 100s of images on my iPad and work from them. Firstly I get down the general shapes of the faces and then take it from there. I never know how my paintings will end up.
When I think Karen Hickey, I think beautiful, colourful close-up paintings of faces. What is it about the human visage that fascinates and inspires you so much?
It's hard to say... I have always been interested in faces. I am very observant and usually know what kind of moods people are in. I am a good reader of people and find humans interesting. I like to make my characters larger than life and really exaggerate them to make it interesting.
Your paintings - and the characters that inhabit them - are imbued with and convey a deep sense of mood and story. How much of an autobiographical element is there to your work?
Perhaps subconsciously I am reflected in them! I love to convey power - especially in women - as I think it's something women have always wanted. My men are often quite kind-faced so maybe I am looking for some balance.
I've seen you mention elsewhere that your paintings depicting women tend to outsell those depicting men. Is that still the case and, if so, what are your thoughts on why it might be?
Yes, the women still sell more. It could be traditional. Over 80% of my buyers are women and I think that they often connect with my women and enjoy the exuberance and lavishness of them, finding them inspiring for themselves.
You exhibited at the Electric Picnic music festival in 2017. How did this opportunity come about, and how amazing did it feel to have your work seen by such a huge audience?
I submitted for EP in 2017 on a whim, not expecting to be chosen at all! I created 6 large pieces for the event in about 4 days which was very fast! It was brilliant, to be honest, and I got to take them home afterwards too. They are all sold now - I think people were interested in their story.
An array of your paintings were commissioned for Google and now hang in the tech giant's Dublin offices. Can you tell me a bit about how this deal happened and what it meant to you?
I am in a Facebook group called 'Bite the Biscuit' and was lucky enough to meet an interior architect from Henry J Lyons via that space. She loved my work and at the time was fitting out the new Google office interior. I was in the right place at the right time!
You're very active on social media, particularly on Instagram and Facebook. How useful do you find these online platforms in terms of promoting yourself and your work, floating new ideas, networking with other artists/galleries, etc?
It definitely helps to attract traffic to my website and shop. I also find ideas in there and find it friendly and love the images on the accounts I follow.
What's been your proudest moment or achievement as an artist to date?
I painted at the Waterford Walls Festival in 2018 and surprised myself with what I could achieve on a 5 foot wall using spray cans for the first time!
Are you working on any exciting projects or pieces at the moment that you'd like to talk about?
I have just come out of Art Source, November 2019. Preparing for that kept me busy for months in advance. Now that it is over, I am working on commissions that I acquired at the event and keeping my website shop up to date. In the new year, I want to work on bigger commissions and market this side of my business more.
How do you envision your work and career evolving over the next 5 years?
I’d love to be working on very big commissions, holding solo shows 2 or 3 times per year and have a very large studio/gallery where I can invite people to view my work or sit for their portraits.
That's a wrap! Thanks for giving such a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting interview, Karen!
An exclusive range of Karen Hickey's work is now available to purchase in print form from Fierce Nice at the following link: The Karen Hickey collection.