A World Within


Award-winning sculptor, Karen Newman reveals the distilled from-life influences behind her portfolio of work

There is something in the human condition that compels us to be drawn to images of ourselves in our frailties, our heroic endeavours and some place in between.

That portrait sculpture is physical and can be experienced in the round has a familiar appeal all of its own. We respond to this form of human representation in a quite a primal way, especially when combined with the lustre of traditional materials, such as bronze and stone, in use for so many thousands of years.

On occasion, my sitters might encounter difficulty maintaining a particular expression during a photo shoot, but I have found that this can help in gaining insight and bring other elements of their personality into view, an advantage in achieving a greater complexity in the work.

Access to filmed imagery of my subject can be a real advantage as well, helping with interpretation of reference photographs. This is a further ‘window’ of valuable information for me to consider.

In the case of my public portraits of the World War II Heroines, there are very few photographs of these brave women available and they can be contradictory in various ways. These photos represent an emotive period in history and avoiding a portrayal of them that leans towards Socialist

Realism, but still retains a sense of heroism is a real challenge. With each commission, my aim is always to gain a harmonious balance of all the required ingredients, for a successful portrait sculpture. Ultimately seeking to achieve moment of heightened awareness in my sitter. Whilst I have difficulty defining this precise moment in words, I instinctively know when I’ve reached it.

Light is a major factor – in fact the smallest fluctuation can affect the content of a work. Changing light can reveal different characteristics in that person. In natural daylight, I have found that with a work-in-progress, it can be hard to distinguish between my perception at that specific moment or whether the effect is simply a change of light. If the intended site for a portrait is to be in an exterior setting, it is vital for me to work outside whenever I can.

Considered and appropriate lighting of portrait sculpture too is of the utmost importance to achieving maximum, finished impact.

More recently I have been exploring abstract forms in some areas of a work, using this approach to express experiences in their lives. For example, in my portrait of Noor Inayat Khan, I have used the abstraction to suggest the tumultuous periods of the 20th Century, through which she lived. This was also in part, a way of paying homage to my heroes of sculpture and the movements they established in Art History.

The realisation that meaning can be attached, by an individual or a stream of visitors to any one of my works can be an extremely moving experience. Whilst a portrait sculpture can capture a fleeting moment of time in a person’s life, it can also express other passages in their history.


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