Clare Lee talks with Sussex artist Karren Urben
Karren Urben studied foundation then fashion at Eastbourne Art College in the seventies and now lives in Brighton where she works in her purpose built studio in her garden. After college she went off in a different direction joining a cabaret band, performing here and abroad impersonating Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper and other well known artistes. In fact in a recent interview I conducted with Karren she admitted that her band ‘The Liquorice Allsorts’ were awarded the best Disco Club Act at The Hippodrome. When she returned to her interest in art, she studied portrait painting in the UK and USA with Daniel Greene NA.
I asked for her ‘worldly’ advice to any aspiring young artist, and the first and most important thing that sprang to mind was – don’t let money be your guiding force. Get a part time job to finance you and stay true to the path you want to follow. She told me that she regretted moving away from her fine art paintings to concentrate on the Glitter Knickers and Dancer paintings. Originally she did a Flamenco series and they sold quickly, so it was easy to follow them with a series of Pastel Dancers. They sold and got publicity – she admits that it was fun but not fulfilling. It’s a choice, she says, creating to pay the bills or to satisfy yourself hoping they will appeal to others. And it is wonderful when the two meet. Looking back, she says if she had the time again, she wouldn’t have left the fine art path. Diversifying isn’t a bad thing, if you can run the two without detriment. She started making Christmas pottery and had great fun and they sold well and she hopes to get back to it maybe for next Christmas! The other advice she would give is always use the best materials that you can afford at the time, and look after your brushes!
I particularly liked her ‘Motherhood & Fecundity’ series, being a mother of four boys and now a grandmother myself – it is obvious that she poured her heart and soul into these paintings and you can feel the warmth and serenity exuding out of them. When her own granddaughter Phoenix was born she gave the oil painting ‘Unconditional’ to the maternity ward at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath to thank them for the wonderful care given to her daughter and granddaughter. It hangs in their breastfeeding room. She herself loved breastfeeding and although she understands it’s not for everyone, for her it was wonderful and this is where those paintings came from.
Another string to Karren’s bow is portraits, in oil or pastels, which she creates from sittings or photographs.
I asked her if art ran in the family and she said her daughter is a talented writer and she hoped that she would use that talent. She is at present enjoying doing creative things with Phoenix now and last week they were making the festive Mincemeat – which this year she took very seriously, they phoned Grandpa at work so he could make his wish while she mixed for him!
The final question I put to her was – did she use her fashion knowledge anymore. She answered that she has her own style and her favourite designer is without a doubt Vivienne Westwood. She hasn’t designed anything for herself recently, but is working on it, as we write; in her ‘romantic’ days she was always designing and running up outrageous outfits to wear on stage.
I enjoyed talking to Karren and it appears that she is enjoying her work in the art world, loving being a grandmother and constantly re-inventing herself.
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