Painting pure feeling with Instagram artist Karen Chok
Review by Farah Dianputri

afterthestorm

My last conversation with Karen Chok was in a packed pre-corona LRT on the Kelana Jaya Line, somewhere between Ampang Park and Dang Wangi in Kuala Lumpur. She was telling me about how she was trying to figure out how to ship her works for an exhibition in Portland, Oregon. Two years later, we’re calling from home over zoom. The backdrop of her room is an immense tapestry of one of her paintings “After The Storm”, a bright yet brooding mythical rainshower. That piece now hangs in over 200 houses and different rooms around the world.

Karen, known as @daixykaren on Instagram, started her journey as a freelance artist as soon as she finished high school. Having researched and taken inspiration from other artists on social media, she started her business a month before entering art school. Being self-taught in the often-neglected practical skills of an art career, she sold her prints and products as a side hustle all while studying her diploma in Fine Arts at the Malaysian Institute of Art. She recalls some judgments she encountered there:

“When I was in art school, I already had a large following on Instagram. At the fine art department, there were a few seniors who basically talked s**t about me behind my back, because what I do is very different from ‘traditional artists’. I have a commercial base: I sell my products, I sell my art. So a lot of ‘traditional artists’ didn’t respect what I did.

eudaimonia

“My Instagram is a place where I document my art. I like to share my projects and art with everyone. It motivates me to create more. Having a huge following on social media comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. When you share your work, everyone can see it. You don’t know what they will do with it. Some will find it inspiring, others will steal it and put it on their own products to sell,” she says.

In terms of her process, Karen tells me that the defining characteristic of all her work is her exploration in colour. Usually she has this vision in her head of what she will create, drawing inspiration from landscapes, photography, music and stories.

“For the piece “Eudaimonia” for example, I was going through an art block, and I wasn’t feeling good at the time overall. I brought this jelly gouache but at that point I didn’t know what to paint. I was blank, I had nothing in my head. So I was playing around with the colours because I wanted to test how this medium worked. And in the end it ended up being this beautiful piece I loved. Sometimes you can paint purely on feeling. That’s what I’m trying to do more often now,” Karen says.


karenpalette

She’s constantly exploring new things both within and outside her current practice. She confides that her aspirations have changed drastically since running her art business:

“I don’t see myself doing the same thing the next three years or the rest of my life. There are so many things I want to do. I want to start a clothing brand. I want to learn pottery. I’m also really into baking. Ever since Covid hit, you realise there is no certainty in the future. So, I really want to branch out and explore other fields.”

Speaking with Karen gave me a glimpse into what it means to make a self-sustaining living as a freelance artist. Selling out seems to be a dirty word in art when in fact that’s what so many artists do, be it on social media or a high-end gallery. The seniors who would have sneered at her work in art school miss the point: even artists need to live and pay rent for their studio. Additionally, what does the social media landscape mean for artists? What’s an artist who caters to the exclusive clique of collectors in comparison to an artist whose works can be cherished in homes all over the world? Karen’s clarity and transparency in talking about the practical side to her work is something unique and seldom gets spoken about in conversations about living as an artist. It’s almost ironic that as a painter of fantastical skylines, she’s incredibly humble and grounded. It goes to show that even through the storm clouds in an artist’s journey to be self-sufficient, you can still find these rays of incandescent sunlight.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Farah Dianputri is a writer under the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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