I had a lovely conversation with Karen Bishop recently, which you can read below. She is a well-known artist in Alberta, based in Edmonton.
More importantly, she is a generous and truly happy person. So happy, in fact, that for the rest of the afternoon following our conversation I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I didn’t want to try.
During our conversation, we covered many topics. Most memorably, for me: We dove into her newfound nickname, The Socialist Limey.
[Featured Artwork: “Nature’s Bridge” by Karen Bishop. Watercolour on yupo mounted on a wood panel.]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
Scissors all the way. I always lose.
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. I’m from England.
B. I fostered puppies. The last one would have been in October 2020.
C. People call me The Socialist Limey. It comes from my advocacy for the arts and I choose to take it as a compliment.
03. What do you mean by advocacy for the arts?
I’ve always had a bit of activism in me; fighting for the little guy. And, I’ve always thought artists are low-hanging fruit. In times of financial stress (for government), it’s always easy to cut art programs because no one needs art. But there are mental health benefits to art. Where would we be in this pandemic without art?
Before the pandemic, the Legislature used to have a space to showcase art but it wasn’t making any money. To the 100 artists it was representing, it was an immense thing. Not just because you would sell a few pieces here and there but being recognized as one of Alberta’s best artists was humbling. And to take that away to save a half million dollars — which is peanuts to them — without trying to find a solution made me angry. Obviously, my fight didn’t get very far but a group of artists got together because of that and formed Alberta Arts Action group, which has morphed from activism from the arts to supporting other activist groups through the arts in fighting for their cause.
The base of almost everything in life is art. To communicate is to use art. If you use a visual thing or if you have someone come and sing an activist song, it has a huge impact.
04. Interesting. Maybe we can dive deeper another time. Re-focusing, is art your career or your hobby?
That’s an interesting question. I was just listening to an Adele interview on CBCs “Q” and she was talking about how music is her career but it’s also her hobby. I make my living from art, but it’s not like a job where I come home and forget about my work. It’s more than that. I would never want my art to become my job. There’s a balance to find between career and hobby, just like Adele said.
05. What is your go-to band or artist?
Right now, I got Adele’s new album for Christmas. I’m just so in love with Adele. Not just her music, her. Other times, I’m a big Brandi Carlile fan; Blue Rodeo is always a good one. Arctic Monkeys are always fun if I want to pump myself up.
06. I should’ve seen Adele coming as one of your answers. Switching back to your art: What is the main medium you use in your art pieces?
Watercolour. And, now, I’m using yupo paper. It’s a bit of a different medium. A more modern take on watercolour.
07. What inspires your art?
I think mostly the landscape. I’m definitely one of those people who is happiest when I can sit outside by a rock with my paint and just spend two hours not talking to anyone, soaking up the nature.
We’re so blessed where we live that we have this amazing scenery all around us. When I first moved out here rom England, I was so overwhelmed by it. If you’re a tourist visiting the mountains and just driving through, you don’t get the same experience as when your just sitting with it for two hours. It’s quite a magical experience. I’ve always found that being in the mountains and just soaking up that moment is very healing. So, that’s my primary love, even though I try other things, I come back to the mountains.
08. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
Morning, I would say. My peak time is from 9 o’clock in the morning to 2 o’clock in the afternoon and then I’m toast.
09. Where did your passion for art start?
My first memory is, when I was little, my dad had this little wooden box that was full of nice pastels. They weren’t cheapo things. But I used to sit with that box and sort all the colours. I never took them out and started doodling; I just sorted them like a little kid would sort their cars. I loved doing that. And I wonder now if that was where my love of colour came from.
Then, I did art in school. I think just I did it as the easy option. Before coming to Canada, I just sort of dabbled. After I came, I couldn’t work for awhile because I didn’t have my papers so I just did some art courses for fun and then I got the bug at that point.
10. What are you hilariously bad at?
I’m hilariously bad at dealing with ice and snow. I think you have to be born in a country like this to be able to walk on the ice properly. I can’t do it. I walk with teeny, tiny, little steps.
11. What hobby would you get into if money wasn’t an issue?
I would love to be a musician. I would love to know how to play the piano.
12. What movie title best describes your life?
If I want to be philosophical about it: “Life Is Beautiful.” It was awhile ago now but it was set during World War II and it focused on seeing the beauty in life despite the main characters being interred at a Nazi concentration camp. It won some Academy Awards, I think, but I just liked that sentiment of seeing the beauty despite your surroundings.
13. What do you hope people get out of your art?
I don’t think of myself as a very provocative artist. There’s so much to ponder and deliberate on in the world that I just want people to enjoy my art and be happy. I want people to look at it and make them feel peaceful, calm.
I’ve heard that a lot from people that there’s a calming influence from my art. That’s what it does for me, so maybe that comes through. I just want people to sit there and be with it in the same way I can. Don’t make something of it that’s not really there.