Karin Miller Unmasked

“I am always on the lookout for ideas. When I hit a dull patch I try to free myself by getting absorbed in beautiful things, such as nature, music and books,” says artist Karin Miller as she sits at her computer in her home studio in Pretoria. “Sometimes I find that sitting down and playing around on Photoshop can often lead to the beginning of an artwork.”

Ever since Karin can remember, she has had a passion for creating things. At a young age—long before Photoshop, she says—she was drawing, painting and cutting images from magazines and sticking them onto other pictures.

“My work is a visual play between beauty and tragedy, rhythm and interruption—I search for a sense of order in the overwhelming chaos of life.” She’s had her fair share of chaos, too. Karin is the daughter of a somewhat eccentric physician father and a prim-and-proper social worker mother. “After my parents separated when I was 12, my four siblings and I developed a kind of dark sense of humour. It’s sometimes reflected in my work.”

The Pretoria-born artist says art was always her favourite subject in high school. After she matriculated, Karin decided to pursue her passion and study graphic design at the Pretoria Technicon (now TUT). After working for a number of years as a graphic designer, she went on to complete a course in Fine Arts at UNISA.

Karin’s evident post-modern and neo-baroque style comes from her love of being able to combine history and modern technology. “I’m drawn to the quality that old photographs and other commercially printed media have. In these images I see the relativity of lives, the passing and decay of matter. I enjoy being able to manipulate images and to take people off their pedestals and put them where I want them to be. I find the rich decorativeness and extravagance of neo-baroque a strong contrast to the poverty which dominates our lives.”

On a typical day, after dropping her youngest child, Emily, off at school, Karin comes back home and gets straight to work. “I enjoy working to music and when I’m on a roll I’ll often forget to take breaks. I can work continuously for hours on end.” When looking for new material for her art, she photographs objects she might use and looks through old photographs and books for images to scan.
Karin describes the two main metaphors of her work as disguise and pattern. “We find disguise in the patterns and regularities of life. It’s easy to hide behind normality.” Is this the reason for masking her figures? “I play games of hide-and-seek with the viewer. Issues are veiled; in the discovery of detail, deceit is revealed and absurdly inverted. The first layer of observation reveals simple decorativeness, but a closer look introduces the heroes who are the personalities that are either super-good or super-bad.”

Karin’s work often has a central figure present. When I ask about how she goes about choosing these central characters—such as a member of the Royal Family—she says, “They represent vulnerability and beauty. The choice is simply someone who can represent those qualities.”

Another recurring theme in Karin’s work is the new South Africa. “I love to put things together in a way that creates contrast. I find comfort in our heritage, but I am aware of its shortcomings too. My art deals with the typically South African ability to laugh at ourselves, and, consequently, to play and take risks.” 

Karin is in two minds when it comes to choosing other artists she admires. “It always amazes me how many seriously talented artists there are. My favourite always changes. Conrad Botes’s work is brilliant. And although I am not a big movie fan, I find I really appreciate good cinematography. Good dancing like that on So You Think You Can Dance just bowls me over; and music in a variety of forms puts me in another world.”

Currently Karin is working on the collection for her next exhibition that will take place at the Holden Manz Gallery in Franschhoek. When I ask what she does when she’s not creating her next masterpiece, she says her garden is her sanctuary and books are her escape.

To find out more about Karin and her artwork visit www.karinmiller.co.za