From the depths of her childhood to the heights of parenthood, Karin Jeanne invites us into her secret garden.
Karin Jeanne creates and exhibits her paintings between her native ële d’Yeu and Paris where she now resides. Fantasies, pirouettes, games and summersaults all somehow find their way into her paintings, depicting childhood scenes set against imaginary backdrops eked from the reality of her surroundings. Today, mother of six, her work reflects the confidence she has gained over the last ten years.
Karin will charm you at first sight – her generosity, good humour, and frankness topped off with a cheeky grin and a twinkle in her eye draws you in for more. Her crystalline voice ingeniously, yet unwittingly unveils her childhood as she enthusiastically describes the stories woven into each canvass. To listen to her, you would think that she has spent her days in the company of lutins and elves battling between the dunes and forests of her native island. Was it they that nurtured her talent? Born of the wind and sea, Karin can spot opportunity as soon as it appears.
Today she paints abundantly and the world is her oyster.
Born on the île d’Yeu in 1968, this hitherto Parisian was raised to the rhythm of the tides. Her memories are of a wonderful childhood – when she wasn’t out discovering her island on her bike, she was drawing, pottering, making clothes and dens for her happy dolls. She is possessed with a highly developed creative and aesthetic sense and this from a very early age.
“In primary school, I used to doodle on my exercise books, which niggled me, so I would transform them into beautiful flower gardens – much prettier. My career as an illustrator had already begun!”
Driven by her vocation, Karin left home at the tender age of 16 to study on “the mainland”. After graduating in French literature, she exiled herself for two years in the School of Fine Art, Grenoble. She then went on to study graphic art in advertising in Nantes, the city nearest to her island home. After graduating there three years later, the sirens of Paris beckoned and she spent the next ten years as art director in a design agency specialised in packaging.
“Advertising wasn’t my thing”, she admits, yet that decade marks her work even today. She often introduces advertising elements from the past, pastes old packaging in collage to give a sense of nostalgia and flavour to her colourful and joyous work.
“I got some old books from a grandparent dating from 1912 – so I stuck pieces of them into my paintings… old illustrations, old typography and so on… All this helps me create an imaginary backdrop that’s accessible to everyone”.
Puzzles, games and dolls
“Mironton-Mirontaine “, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”… Her paintings evoke many childhood memories and this is clearly her world. In 1998, she left the world of advertising and design for a basement in Colombes, in the western outskirts of Paris. There, she created, designed, manufactured and sold toys, puzzles, lamps, mirrors, and dolls through several publishers. She also published many articles on leisure in various magazines.
“I had a lot of ideas, I was creating a lot.” Her children Mathurin and Aglaia, were only too happy to play with their mother’s creations. One day, a publisher had the good idea to visit her basement workshop. Overwhelmed by the poetry he witnessed there, he immediately wanted to sell the contents of her children’s bedrooms. The result? A first prize at the prestigious “Maison et Objets” 2004 Expo in the category “Children’s World.” Karin’s world does not stop there. Since 2001, she invests her time in a local, popular market on the île d’Yeu. “I spend every summer here creating, painting.”
In 2006, a publisher commissioned Karin to decorate 30 wooden frames being mass-produced in Asia. Karin wanted to exhibit them too and booked a wall eight meters by three for an exhibition in Colombes. But the frames were held up in shipping. “One month before the exhibition, nothing had arrived and I was facing the prospect of presenting an empty wall! I needed to act and fill the empty space, so I bought lots of canvasses, acrylic paint, and pigments and threw myself headlong into painting. I had no idea where I was going.”
The frames never arrived on time, but the exhibition was a success. What’s more, over half of her paintings were sold. That same year, the ële d’Yeu Department of Culture offered her an exhibition hall – she painted and sold a further 35 paintings for far more than those before. Karin has a knack of spotting an opportunity and taking advantage of her luck. She plays to win.
In September 2007, she moved to Antony, another Parisian suburb in the south. Her house quickly filled with her work, so much so that one of her neighbours – “Papi Michel”, a small widower of 86 years – offered her some space for expansion. She seized the opportunity and prepared her follow-up exhibition, “Smart Wind”, in July 2008 at the island’s Insula Gallery. The exhibition was a resounding success, confirming her talent.
Sea winds blow over her Parisian workshop
Karin’s hospitality radiates today from a new workshop. She welcomes you by offering Moroccan tea “with mint from the garden, and wind from the sea.” Wind is omnipresent in the huge paintings that adorn the walls and cascade across the floor.
Gales, gusts and gentle breezes… they all find their place in a whirlwind of joy reflected through the eyes and smiles of her imaginary characters. “There is a grey-bluish tint in all of my work – it’s my trademark from the île d’Yeu,” she says. Even though her latest works are gradually losing their childhood element, traces of seaward breezes are ever present.
Geraldine Magnan June 2009
Adapted from French.