Haus of Phag showcases the work of Manchester artist Karen Little
A Dozen Eggs
Haus: What binds all of your pictures together?
Karen: Shape and colour are the consistent elements that run throughout all my work because I absolutely love both. I've done very different work in the past though. I trained in fine art and sculpture in the Camberwell School of Art, London; I did my degree in sculpture and my MA in studio-based painting. I was living in Spain for six years before I came to Manchester and was making very big and abstract work because I was living in massive countryside in Andalucia. I was going out and finding objects and putting them into paintings, like for example shotgun shells, and that would become a motif and there would be a series of paintings that involved the shapes of those things, rather than the original physical object.
I still find things in Manchester and paint them. In relation to the eggs though, the first egg (with the silver shoes) came to me in a dream, in which a little girl was painting that image.
Haus: So you dreamt of someone else painting that picture?
Karen: It was myself as a child. You see I wrote a novel last year and I made twelve illustrations for it. Coming from Spain, where I'd had permanent exhibiting opportunities and lived from selling my work, I came to Manchester and found that I needed to get my creativity out there and I was performing my poetry more. And then I had this dream and decided to do a series of portraits, in effect. But many of the objects that appear in the pictures, for example the cowboy hat, is literally a toy hat that I found on Platt Fields. The little Jack Daniels bottle I found too.
I love taking these objects and playing around with them with my imagination. I get really excited when I'm out walking and find some ridiculous objects that someone, or a child, has dropped. And these objects appear in the second series, the Stages, too. I found the popcorn, which was the starting point for 'Big Surprise'.
Haus: After the appearance of the first egg in your dream, why did you decide to continue the image through to the full set of twelve?
Karen: I'm permanently vegetarian, but I was vegan for a while and the moment that I stopped being a vegan after about fifteen months, I ate as many eggs as I could. I became quite obsessed with them and they started to take on characters in my imagination.
I think the second picture I made was the one with the cress growing out of it and this was from when I was five years old and told to bring an egg into school with me. My Dad left not long after this, but he'd shown me how to blow an egg and I thought it was the most perfect thing. But at school we had to break the egg because we were growing cress in it, and I was heartbroken. This fragile and beautiful thing had to be broken, just to grow cress! It was a tragedy.
So each of the eggs has its own personality and its own little story behind it.
Haus: I think my favourite is the 'Sack Race Eggs'.
Karen: Well I wanted the eggs to be doing things that eggs maybe ought not to be doing. What are the worst things an egg could do for itself? It certainly shouldn't jump. And then there's the cowboy, the rocking horse, kind of like Humpty Dumpty.
Haus: Tempting fate?
Karen: All doing stuff they shouldn't. I also had another dream in which there were a lot of hands all joined together wearing white gloves, all holding an egg - I have a lot of dreams that becomes pieces - so that became the white hand in the cress picture, while the scissors were drawn from real scissors as a still-life.
Haus: What is it that joins a series together?
Karen: Well obviously for the eggs it's the appearance of the egg... But for the stages it's the idea of a set box. I used to work in set design and we would say that the moment something appears on a stage, it becomes a performance. It's the same with art - until you've put it on a gallery wall and displayed it, it isn't art, it's just something that you've "done". So these ideas that I have, some of which are really quite sad, aren't anything until they've been displayed, so I'm putting them in a set box and showing them as art and as a performance. It's displaying the objects and subjects like a tiny art installation, with things suspended above the stage, things on the floor and things on the side and though they are flat images, I want to give the feeling of stepping inside something.
Haus: There's a lot of humour around the pictures, but they also feel melancholy too. I like that you've taken images that are so colourful and yet some of them have ended up looking quite morose.
Karen: It's the idea that behind every celebration is an attempt to hide a sad fact; getting older, it's shit and the middle of the winter so we'll have Christmas, we've had a hard week so we'll have a big party. It's that sense of false bonhomie. I'm not a particularly sociable person - I'll be the one at a party talking to the pets in the kitchen.