Karen Reiss was born in Winnipeg and graduated from Queen’s University, Kingston Ont., with a B.A. in psychology. She worked in the field of addiction research, treatment and administration in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.
She has studied art at the University of British Columbia, the Emily Carr School of Art and Design, and the Metchosin International Summer School for the Arts, as well as in workshops with Salt Spring artists Kathy Venter and Denys James.
Since moving to Salt Spring Island over twenty years ago, Karen has worked in a variety of media – fabric, acrylic on canvas, papier-mache – before finding her home in clay. “For me, ” she says, “clay represents the ‘ground of being.’ It contains the earth’s entire history from the beginning of time. It gives me a way of showing the interconnectedness of all life.” She uses paper clay, nails, and metal to explore issues of identity, belonging, and personal and collective history. Her work has appeared in solo and group shows in Ontario, British Columbia and Washington State and is held in private collections in Canada, the United States and Germany. She is represented on Salt Spring Island by the J. Mitchell Gallery.
“I remember, from when I was a kid, the joy of making sloppy mud pies, mud up to my elbows. When I met and studied with Rosette Gault — the inventor of paper clay — I re-experienced that joy. I like to work messy and really get my hands in the clay. Since this is what she taught, it was a perfect fit, and I’ve been working in paper clay ever since.
“Each of my sculptures begins with an idea, a feeling, maybe a story that I want to express. Images start to form in my mind, and I start to see how they can fit together — what kind of infrastructure is needed and how the weight will be held.
“As I start the piece I bring all this with me, while still holding the original inspiration. As the piece progresses, it becomes the boss, telling me what it will and won’t do. The non-linear process of creating becomes all-important. There is no straight line to follow from the beginning to a finished sculpture.
“Generally, I build a piece using slabs of wet clay. When it’s leather-hard I may add more wet and texture it and add slips, sometimes glazes, and bits of metal. I bisque fire around cone 04. I glaze and fire again to cone 05. I may apply paper or metal or acrylic paint at this point — whatever the piece needs to reach the resolution it wants.