After a 20-year career in Early Childhood Education Karen Langlois walked through the doors of Toronto School of Art and never looked back. Three years later she left Ontario to pursue her other long-neglected dream: a house in the woods in Nova Scotia. For the past seven years she has been making art and gardening in Port Medway.
Most of my work springs from found materials: books, dresses, bed sheets and random junk, the more distressed the better. The materials have their own mysterious history. I feel there’s a lot of power in old textiles. They can elicit a visceral response.
I am captivated by untold stories, particularly the stories contained within domesticity. My work often touches on the relationship between domesticity and the natural world – the inside and the outside.
I joined VANS shortly after I moved here. One of the biggest challenges I’ve had transitioning from school to solitary practice and from a city to a rural area is staying connected with other artists. For me, it’s inspiring to see other artists’ work and to hear them talk about it. VANS helps me stay in touch with the art that’s happening here. As a person who still prefers a book or magazine to a screen, I always look forward to the latest copy of Visual Art News.
A few years ago, our local VANS chapter brought in two artists to do a group critique. It was a really valuable experience for me. One of the artists, Carol Laing met with me later to talk about my work which was incredibly generous of her and was very encouraging for me.
using the page as a support
The bulk of my work is textile pieces and altered books although I also love to draw. I work in old books in an art journal fashion, responding to text or images on the page or just using the page as a support. My approach is rooted in collage and mixed-media. I love making marks with anything and everything, including needle and thread. I often use text or transfers of drawings. Lately I’m addicted to white gesso and I want to put it on everything.
I also do on-going installations in the marsh and the woods where I live.
finding a way to maintain my confidence in my creative voice
I usually love my work but sometimes the “art world” gets inside my head. When that happens, I start judging my work and it shuts me right down. Sometimes it can seem like art is a competitive, ego-driven thing and I wish it was more of a sharing, celebrating thing. It bothers me how the “art world” is separate from the rest of the world, as if art wasn’t part of life or as if only people who went to art school have a creative voice.
Related to that is my difficulty in doing the “career” part of being an artist. It’s hard to make myself sit down at the computer and write and apply for things. So I make all this art, but I hardly show it. Finding a way to maintain my confidence in my creative voice and my joy in art-making, while also doing the ‘career’ work is an on-going struggle for me.
A few years ago, after having been out of my studio for a few months, I saw a show by Sandra Brownlee at The Mary Black Gallery. She showed all her artist journals. Some were closed, on a shelf, and others were taken apart and the pages framed and displayed. She also showed work that was still in process. I was deeply moved by the generous, joyful spirit of that show. The next day I was back in my studio.
Around the same time, I went to a talk by Doug Guildford, an artist whose work I admire very much. He talked about his art in such simple, elegant terms. I remember he said that when you submit proposals “you get to write about your art.” That was such a turn-around for me, to think about it as something you “get” to do, rather than something onerous. I still haven’t done much of it, but it’s a goal. And now VANS has encouraged me to do this artist profile which is great, just what I needed!
“Definitely Not the Art College”
Recently I started an art drop-in at Second Story Women’s Centre in Lunenburg. I call it “Definitely Not the Art College.” It was something I had dreamed about for a long time: a place where anyone can go and do art, whether they consider themselves an “artist” or think they don’t have a creative bone in their body. It has been great and the women who come to the program have been so inspiring for me.
In June I am going to Montreal to learn about “Art Hives,” a much more complex, research-based version of Definitely Not the Art College. Janis Timm-Bottos from Concordia University has established six successful Art Hives. She is bringing together people from across Canada who are interested in adapting the model in their own communities. I’m really looking forward to seeing where that takes me.
In my studio right now, I am doing some branch-weaving and playing with an old drop-cloth that I left out in the woods for the winter. My studio is full of on-going work. Old pieces are constantly being ripped up, sewn back together and painted over. In other words, I really don’t know for sure what I’ll be working on until I walk in the room!
In the words of Sandra Brownlee, “Make a mark. See where it goes.”