Meet the Runner-Up In Our Visual Art Contest, Karien Deroo

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After several successful years of working in the field of graphic design and illustration, Belgian-born artist Karien Deroo finally quit her day job to pursue her childhood passion for painting. Her introspective pieces, which include both acrylics and oil on canvas, scored Deroo a spot as one of the finalists in the recent BlackBook-sponsored Society6 virtual art collaboration. Here, Deroo explains her quest to seek out the human soul in her art work.

Have you always been keen on capturing the human image? My interest is in the human figure and occasionally in some animals — one of my recent paintings is a man with the head of a wolf. I don’t know if I will continue with these experimental paintings but the image with the wolf’s head has a reason behind it: I chose a wolf for his head because the painting is called “The Politician.”

You say that you’re searching for the soul of human beings in your work. Why? I’m always looking for the soul in human beings (and also in animals, but that’s more difficult). When I look at people and when I talk and listen to them, I want to reach their souls, to leave the surface behind and go deeper to find their inner beauty. Since I usually paint portraits, I always search for images of people who have a very silent expression on their faces and in their attitudes. They are in their inner world, looking out with direct stares, or looking away, dreamily captured in their own world. You don’t know what they’re thinking and it’s in this moment, I believe, that you can see their soul and make a connection with your own soul. I want people to have a connection with my paintings, through their soul.

Why do you lean toward creating “melancholic” and “claustrophobic” atmospheres in your paintings? I’m a melancholic person when I’m working and painting. I’m attracted to that kind of art. Maybe it’s in my roots, but I don’t want to paint “happy” paintings with “happy” laughing people and a lot of flashing colors. I want to paint mystery, stillness, reflection and maybe a little mysticism, because deep down, that’s my attitude.

Did a long-term career in graphic design have any effect on the way you paint? Absolutely not. I wanted to study art because even as a child, I was always drawing, coloring and painting, but my parents didn’t like that I wanted to become an artist. They thought it would be a difficult life without money and security, so the only way I could study in the general field of art was to do graphic design. I worked in three graphic design studios and then opened my own company and studio so I could at least work independently, because I was not very happy in that field.

What prompted you to finally quit working in graphic design full time? After opening my own graphic design studio, I became an illustrator for children’s books and magazines, because I was not great with advertising and business — I’m not a commercial person. With illustration, I was free to draw and paint, but after awhile this work still gave me no satisfaction. I wanted to be completely free, working on my own, with no editors commanding me what to do! In the mean time, I studied etching and graphics, but when I began to miss colors, so I started to paint, in an autodidactic way. That was the first time I really felt good about myself and my work. So, in the end, I became the artist that I already had been as a child. Oil paintings are a recent addition to your palette. How does it compare to working with acrylics on canvas? I’ve had experience using oil from childhood, but when I really started to paint, I was living in a small apartment, and could not use it because of the smell. I now have a great studio in my garden, and the difference between oil and acrylics is amazing. I can spend more time on an oil painting because of the dry-time. The colors are also deeper in oil and I find that the quality of the painting becomes more fluid – there is more brightness and depth. Have you settled on the type of paintings that you want to create or is your aesthetic still evolving? Currently, I paint portraits of one or two people at a time, but I want to do bigger paintings with several figures and find out how they stand next to each other. That will be more difficult, but I want to learn how to do it, and maybe to even introduce their backgrounds in the painting. I’m learning how to wait a little, give the painting and the idea in my head some time, and see how the image grows. If it’s strong enough, then I have to learn to stop painting, so I have a few paintings hanging in “waiting time.” It also seems that I don’t have to paint the whole canvas every time — that’s what I’m learning these days — to leave things ‘non finito.’