Within the vibrant landscapes of Trinidad and Tobago, Master Artist, Karen Sylvester, is a beacon of creativity and resilience. Born and raised in this culturally-rich environment, Karen's artistic journey has been a testament to overcoming adversity and finding strength in her art. Karen’s passion is its own brand, her trademark being photo-realistic landscape paintings. The naturalism in Karen’s landscapes is breath-taking; she has the unique ability to capture minute details, mood, and light that not only leave the viewer mesmerised, but also reflect the perfect and pristine landscapes within Trinidad and Tobago.
Karen spoke with the members of Women in Art Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago on November 19th, 2023 at a group visit to her home. The visit felt like a transformative retreat. It allowed the artists to acknowledge that their creations are meaningful and unique, and that they do not have to overly conform to the style of others. Karen's talk sparked inspiration and hit a mental reset button for many.
After graduating from Holy Name Convent, with her A-level certification in art and a great determination to be a professional artist, Karen Sylvester embarked on an artistic journey that would soon face the challenges of the often unforgiving art industry, more so one that was and still remains, male-dominated.
She was very candid about her early experiences as an emerging female artist back then. It was not at all easy, she explained, She recounted her early days of organising her portfolio and travelling via public transportation to banks and other corporate entities, seeking sales in-person for her works. And then there were the raised eyebrows and negative feedback toward her work. Undeniable and exceptional talent it seemed, were not enough. "I had to endure a lot," Karen admits, reflecting on the hurdles she faced and how she had to weather storms of negativity, enduring racial slurs and hurtful rumours. At one point, someone callously remarked of her work, "The best thing about the painting is the frame." Others claimed that she used a lighting medium to achieve the remarkable detail in her work. WIAOTT also learned that contrary to the popular notion that the artist copies directly from photographs, Karen explained that she makes site visits and takes reference photos but paints her features her unique interpretation by she adding details and changing other aspects of the original composition.
Amidst the harsh criticisms, Karen chose not to let negativity define her. She maintains a positive outlook, emphasizing the importance of surrounding oneself with people who nurture and support artistic endeavours. This resilience became the cornerstone of her journey, allowing her to stay focused on her craft despite the down side of public opinion.
The artist who is based in the lush valley of Santa Cruz, stresses the importance of continuously creating art that you love as opposed to creating art for money. She stated that an artist must focus on patiently developing one’s distinctive style in art, taking time to explore styles before sticking to one particular style and subject matter. The subject of one’s artistic composition must always be carefully considered in myriad ways which can range from the weather, reflections of light, shadows, atmosphere, movements in water and time of day to name a few.
Karen Sylvester's journey is not just about creating beautiful art; it's a story of process, positivity, and the invaluable support of loved ones. Central to Karen's support system is her husband, Michael, who plays a crucial role in the marketing aspect of her art. Michael, the self-confessed extrovert of the duo, found a connection with customers that complemented Karen's artistic depth. He goes above and beyond, carrying his wife's paintings in the car and ensuring they are never far from the reach of potential clients. According to Michael, successful art marketing goes beyond the canvas; it's about building relationships, understanding connections, and learning personalities. He emphasizes the importance of not overpricing pieces too early, a pitfall many new artists encounter. "You have to know how to market your art to meet the standards," Michael asserts, underlining the delicate balance between pricing and establishing a foothold in the market.
In a world where challenges can sometimes overshadow creativity, Karen stands tall as an inspiration for aspiring artists to navigate the highs and lows, always holding onto the passion that fuels their art. Her story beautifully symbolizes the determination of a woman in a male-dominated art world, overcoming challenges and turning her passion into a fulfilling career. Within this tapestry of creative exchange, the visiting artists found validation, inspiration, and a reservoir of wisdom that reshaped their individual perspectives.
Written by Jadyn Bhagat
December 2023 (photos published with the kind permission of Karen Sylvester)