Karin Lijnes: Unsettling the Binaries

The art of Karin Lijnes is not easy to define: ever evolving, her themes shift and flow, floating happily in a sea of duality which she defines as her “South African experience”. She’s worked with every medium possible, revelling in the process as she simultaneously brings figures and ideas to life. Sometimes planned, other times accidental, her sole purpose is to feel, mould, create – and quietly observe how the reactions takes shape.

One could argue that it’s a worldwide trend for art to be perceived as a poor career choice, especially some 30 years ago. For that reason, Lijnes only made the decision to pursue her career in the arts much later in life. And so her story began.

karin lijnes

You started out as a draughtswoman, layout artist and sign writer – what made you decide to change direction?

From the start I wanted to go to art school – this was not favoured by my parents. Draughting, design and sign writing were the only jobs I could find to earn money – only much later did I eventually get to art school.

They often say that your parents, as your first point of contact to the world, are your greatest influence. Do you believe your art was or still is influenced by them in some way?

My mother sewed every night on an old ‘treddle’; my grandfather had a little studio at Kommetjie and made hundreds of oil paintings. I inherited his brushes, paints and lots of old art books. My brother and I would make small objects from the nearby quarry clay.

karin lijnes

In terms of the driving force that shapes all your art, you state that you “explore visual and material connections and absurd ambiguities that arise from living in South Africa”, though your influences and themes can arguably be borderless.   Where do you draw the line?

At the moment the ‘South African experience’, is a complicated thing: race, culture and language being deconstructed and re-worked. My experiences, making art, as a white woman and as a grandmother, become compost in order to grow my art. Unsettling the binaries and uncovering potential meanings is really what, for me, gives more of a sense of truth and often reveals what is not being said or what is not there. That is the challenge. You can’t possibly make art over a long period of time without logging onto one’s own personal experience. I don’t think there is ever a clear line.

Besides using art as a form of social commentary, what inspires you to create?

I can only say what inspires me for now, at this moment. Definitely simultaneity… serendipity…being in alignment. I love tree bark. I am inspired by finding new spaces and ways of arranging my work. I love to surprise myself.

Among your list of influences, you site Banksy as one of your favourites and I believe that you’ve recently had a number of your artworks displayed in public spaces, which, like Banksy’s works appear ‘overnight’ – what outcomes do you wish to achieve by doing this?

If you activate public spaces you open yourself up to a massive range of informed and uninformed opinions and beliefs, no one can predict what anyone else may think or how they see your work. But the important thing is to be taking the risks.

karin lijnes

You seem to have explored every medium from plastic to porcelain – how do the materials you choose speak to their subject matter?

Materials are important – it’s the first layer of the work, like the skin that signifies – or doesn’t signify. If I use porcelain and it mimics a plastic, it raises certain questions and that becomes interesting – it conflates the real and the mimetic. Binaries become unsettled and that’s when questions pop up. The process is labour intensive but also playful.

You state that art “is not about making something purely to please the eye – but it is all about the process”. Can you expand on this?

The process of making is usually more important than the actual final work. I see what I do a result of an accumulation of myriads of moments of process, rather than setting out to make a ‘work of art’. Each moment ideas want to branch this way or that and it’s a question of keeping on the ‘right’ track.

karin lijnes

I see that you have exhibited both locally and internationally – what have the reactions been like to the different audiences, if any?

Audience and viewers overseas are so appreciative of artists. Here artists are not often respected; the idea of art as a vehicle for raising consciousness or a kind of citizen activism is both exciting and hazardous. Art shouldn’t become didactic. Often, creativity is trashed and overlooked. Without freedom of expression we would be uncivilized bunch.

What are you currently working on and what’s coming up next?

I am currently preparing a work for the Land Art Event happening in Noordhoek on 30th November – I am doing something in the trees…
I would love to work towards a solo exhibition next year at a great gallery.


karin lijnes



karin lijnes



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