Sewell’s works explore relationships between form, colour, light, space, aroma, and sound contributing to conversations on connections between abstraction and spiritual experience. The work seeks to evoke the unfathomable mystery and beauty of cosmic phenomena, and act as a potential threshold into the terrain of the numinous. The exhibition includes the use of spherical and circular forms in painted, sculptural, and photographic works that reflect artist Karen Sewell’s interest in celestial bodies and sacred geometries.
Capturing what Cannot be Captured was inspired by symbolic motifs in prints of 15th century Jesuit artists who depicted circular orbs, natural light-giving bodies, cosmic or celestial to signify the divine. This motif can also be found in a 16th century painting by Johannes Vermeer, who was inspired by these earlier artists.
Sewell’s foregrounding of the everyday materials in the construction of her works, also suggests moments of access between the material and the intangible. Paintings are made from pigments, local Whakatū Nelson soil, thousand-year-old water drawn from a North Island natural spring, and binder medium. Sewell makes the paint herself using natural and synthetic pigments, soil, powdered marble, and binder medium.
Photographic works are photograms made in the darkroom and lumen prints made at the dawn of day. The recast found and everyday materials (polystyrene balls from a do-it-yourself set of our solar system and glass paperweights) act as celestial bodies hovering in deep space. The resulting compositions evoke the cosmos, and for some, perhaps the earliest representations of our solar system.
Sculptures, Hikaru dorodango’s (earth dumplings) are an ancient Japanese art form and made from local Whakatū Nelson soil, sand, clays, straw, pigments, and encaustic wax. The process of construction is slow and often meditative, a quality that Sewell enjoys. Dorodango’s can take anywhere from two weeks to a month to complete the hand polished, gilded, or sealed surface. Hanging mirrored glass sculptures have been created using found objects (glass globes) that have been hand-treated to a layered antiquing process.
The sound component in this installation is created from NASA Voyager recordings made in deep space around the planets and moons of our solar system. This information, when sent back to Earth and decoded, can be heard as enigmatic and intriguing sounds from space – the music of the spheres. Sewell’s interest in levitation, a quality suggested by her suspension of forms appearing to hover in space, is influenced by ideas of ascension and transcendence, and conduits between the material and ethereal realms. She aspires to draw viewers’ attention to look and think beyond the material – and into the realm of feeling – to experience the possibilities of wonder.
For the Olfactory component of Capturing What Cannot Be Captured, (and its accompanying Nelson Arts Festival exhibition Luminary, presenting in the Nelson Cathedral 19 - 29 October) Sewell has commissioned and collaborated with Auckland based artist Juanita Madden byjuanitamadden.co.nz. Madden trained in the art of scent at Grasse Institute of Perfumery France, her work offers the experience of fragrance, and its interaction with memory and the body.
Karen Sewell is a visual artist who works across media including sculpture, installation, photography, painting, sound and light. She lives and works in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, New Zealand. Sewell is interested in the intersection of art with spiritual experience, in particular, human experiences of the numinous*.
Sewell graduated with a Master of Fine Arts (with Honours) in 2016 from Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. She was the recipient of the Premier Award in the Waitakere Trust Art Award in 2011, and has been selected as a finalist in awards including The NZ Portrait Awards in 2012, the Wallace Art Awards in 2013, and the Glaister Ennor Graduate Awards in 2016. Karen is the Artist in Residence at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell, Auckland.
Sewell’s unique offering artistically and professionally is through her creation of innovative artworks (often) in unexpected and alternative exhibition spaces that offer the viewer the potential for an experience of the unseen and unknown. She is pioneering a dialogue between contemporary art, histories of faith and sites of worship, to be re-connected. Photographic artworks have emerged from the immersive space experience. Both the practices of the installation and photographic artworks, work together in combination to achieve the exhibition experience.
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