Trees seem to be the most popular single subject for local artists exhibiting in the Shaftesbury Arts Centre Gallery. If you love the leafy foliage of Park Walk and Shaftesbury’s wooded slopes you might enjoy Karren Burkett’s exhibition that opened today, Wednesday.
In addition to the paintings of our local trees, there are pastels, charcoals, woodblocks and lino print pieces. “I’m really pleased. This is my latest lino cut and it’s the reflection in the lake at Fonthill,” said Karren, as she led me to a work displayed on one of the gallery pillars. “I’m just thrilled to bits with how that’s worked out.”
Karren moved to Shaftesbury recently. The title of her show, ‘Plantation to Palladwr’ references her relocation to our town. Caer Palladwr is thought to be the ancient Celtic name for our settlement – and as Karren has settled here herself, she painted Gold Hill, almost as if it was a local artistic rite of passage. “It’s called ‘Everybody Has To Do It Once’ – that’s climb it, look at it, walk down it and, in my case, paint it,” said Karren.
This large painting features the famous hill-climbing cottages from a different perspective. Karren has captured them from their first floor upwards. The steep cobbles of the hill are not pictured. “I did the drawings in place on the top of Gold Hill, from the coffee shop there. The bottom half of it became quite boring. The thing that really gave me the ‘wow’ factor was the roofline. That was exciting. And so that’s what I painted,” she said.
Some of Karren’s opening day visitors couldn’t believe that everything on display is her art. “I think people are just surprised that this is one person’s work because it’s so different.” One wall features her work from ten years ago. It seems more precise. I pointed out the detail on the bark of a tree. Some of Karren’s newer paintings, including a view from Park Walk, appear more stylised. On that one she had depicted the background of the slopes leading towards Melbury Hill as different dashes of green.
Karren says her more recent work was created in the darker months. “I think that makes a difference because I’m responding to the light that we have in the winter. In the other pictures it was spring and summer,” she says.
Karren doesn’t personally feel that her approach to art has altered over the years but she understands that viewers may detect some differences. “It does span ten years. I wouldn’t think much of me as an artist if I hadn’t developed my art in a decade and I was still painting the same way I did ten years ago.”
With many local artists highlighting our trees, I asked Karren why she wanted to feature them. “I’ve always painted trees. They are the furniture of the countryside and they give you places to rest your eyes when you’re looking. Of course they do all those wonderful things like making the air fresh for us,” said Karren.
The artist will tell you where around town to find each tree she has painted. But her favourite, ash trees, are in short supply in Shaftesbury. “They are such beautiful, graceful creatures. There aren’t any ash trees that I have found in Shaftesbury. I’ve got oak trees and a lot of silver birch. Those are the trees that grow when a woodland is regenerating, so they’re the weed trees that provide the shelter for the bigger trees to come along later. There’s so many in Shaftesbury it bothers me slightly,” said Karren.
“I have two very old beech trees in my garden and you can see them as you come into Shaftesbury from Gillingham. My two trees stand up above everybody else’s on that escarpment. It gives me such a great glow when I see them.”
Karren Burkett’s exhibition continues until Tuesday, 14th May at Shaftesbury Arts Centre.