Karen Erickson: Portrait of an artist

·5 min read

(ANNews) – Karen Erickson is a Metis, Cree artist, currently living in Prince George. In art, she has only known painting and does it with a deft eye, whether it be on canvas, feathers, earrings or anything else she is guided to paint. Karen turned professional, right out of high school, attending craft shows with her twin sister, (artist Carla Joseph), when she got out of high school.

Expressing her thoughts and dreams onto canvas has been her sole life’s work and that work reflects years of discipline, as well as empathy and compassion for nature and the humans that inhabit her world.

“My twin sister and I have been painting since elementary school,” Karen begins, and all throughout “my adult life, it’s what I’ve done.”

Erickson’s mom and dad are from Meadow Lake and Green Lake, Saskatchewan. They moved to BC so Karen’s dad could work and they’ve been in Prince George ever since.

“I am basically just a self-taught artist. My inspiration is nature and animals and people; I love people. I like to draw pictures that make me [forge] a connection,” she explains. “My painting is heartfelt, [and I use painting to] tell stories through my art.”

Describing her process, Erickson explains how she gets her creative ideas.

“Sometimes I go to bed at night and, I swear, I dream some of this stuff up,” she laughs. “I think about it all [evening] and then I end up dreaming about it, it’s so weird.”

Using a stream of consciousness approach, Erickson’s inspiration takes over as she begins to paint. “Yeah, once I put my paintbrush (on the canvas) I just keep going until I know I’m done. I sold my first work straight out of high school and haven’t stopped. My twin sister Carla Joseph is a (well known) Metis artist in this area and so when we started doing art shows together, our work started getting more attention.”

Karen describes the feeling of someone buying her work for the first time. “Selling my work made me feel more validated. I kind of always knew what people like, even from the very beginning with my art style. There’s a lot of coastal art in BC and so there was an [intentional] effort to move away from that.”

While talking with Karen for this profile, it became more apparent that she does not seek the limelight. Her main focus is creating art that speaks to people and gives them a sense of peace. So, it was all the more surprising that she described the actual spark to her creative process.

“It starts with a dream and the next day I think about it more and more until I am (ready), then I feel like I’ve got to get this done before I forget about it,” she laughs. “Sometimes I will even write it down on a piece of paper, just with little notes and then I will start drawing it up.”

“Sometimes when I start creating the backgrounds, I just start using my hands and then [inspiration appears]; ‘oh look, there’s a little shape there’ and then I know where to start. It’s kind of like, it’s different. It all starts with the backgrounds and the colours that I use. I just start throwing paint on the canvas but [I usually use] my hands to start painting. I just see a silhouette of something with the different colours. Even with just a whisp of my hand, I [may] see something.”

“Surviving as professional, full time artists, my sister and I get commissions monthly. You have to treat it like a job. I do work full time for Metis Nation BC but I get as much painting done as I can (when I’m not working). I get so booked with requests for paintings. But I love it, especially during covid, there’s been nothing else to do but paint and make people happy.”

In closing, I asked Erickson what she feel is the artist’s purpose. Her answer was understated and unassuming. “For me it’s just to show stories through my art. To make people feel at peace with some of my images. I’ve sent my art across Canada so hopefully it is doing that to many. I love to paint, I can go anywhere with a canvas.”

The beautiful image that appears on the cover of the June Alberta Native News is entitled “Every Child Matters.” Karen added the coastal art reflected in the moon to show that residential school trauma happened to many other Indigenous tribes.

“I think it is one of the most important things [I’ve done]. I always want to paint things that show the injustices that happen to Indigenous people. And it’s so hard too because when people see my work, they think it’s beautiful but at the same time, so sad. I try to make it uplifting as well because I’m trying to show that they’ve moved on to a better place. That could be anywhere because everyone has their (own beliefs) and it’s up to the person to believe where they are going.”

Karen continued, “I’ve always loved doing silhouettes but when I started to create this piece, I was just thinking about what would happen if someone passed (while attending) residential school. I just pictured siblings, when they finally got to see each other again, actually get to touch each other again and just basically that they would end up somewhere better.”

About her painting “Remembrance,” Karen says, “I love that one, it depicts the elder at the top who was from a residential school and remembers how she was a young girl and her friend actually passed on due to the residential school. She never forgot what happened to her friend and that’s what (provided the inspiration). And I had to put the cross in there because it’s catholic but it is just so different. I was apprehensive about (including) the cross because people are so mad at the catholic church.”

Dale Ladouceur, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News

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