While Melbourne-based artist Karen Hopkins had visited Venice for a short trip back in 2010, it wasn’t until she spent a month in the lagoon city that she got to see its many faces.
Originally from England but having lived in Australia for the past two decades, Hopkins was selected for an artist residency in Venice for a month last year.
The talented artist describes her home for the month as “a beautiful old property with a small patio garden by the side of a canal in the Cannaregio district – a bohemian area just off the beaten track, in the heart of Venice’s historic Jewish ghetto”.
Like many creative souls before her, Hopkins soon became fascinated by Venice, with its narrow streets and winding canals.
“Living there gave me a much deeper experience of the city,” she says.
“I was able to take my time to wander through the back streets and become lost without a care in the world.”
Hopkins’ stay opened her to a world of creative freedom, in which she was inspired by Venice’s history, architecture, art and natural beauty.
“It was a wonderful experience to be totally immersed in art and culture and to be creating in a city where so many artists had done so throughout history,” she reflects in her artist’s statement.
“I could almost feel their energy around me as I wandered through the back alleys, exploring different churches and palaces richly adorned in exquisite paintings and sculptures by masters in their crafts.”
During her time in the city, Hopkins learnt etching, bookbinding and cooking skills from local women, meandered through the Rialto market and often caught the morning vaporetto, observing residents going about their everyday lives by the water.
All of these experiences shaped her view of Venice and breathed life into a collection of abstract paintings and quirky sculptures, which will be exhibited at Without Pier Gallery, in Cheltenham, from September 16 to October 7.
Entitled Venice Reflections, the exhibition has been described by Hopkins as her “most eclectic to date”, and draws on a time of experimentation and the exploration of new techniques.
As its name indicates, many of the collection’s pieces are inspired by the water which surrounds and weaves its way through the city, and the images and light it reflects.
“When I arrived, I was so overwhelmed by the water, as it’s so beautiful and there’s so much of it,” Hopkins recalls.
“I remember sitting by the quayside in Burano and watching reflections moving by the side of a boat… it was just so captivating.
“The essence of the exhibition is reflections – not just of the water but also my personal reflections of Venice.”
While Hopkins was enchanted by Venice, she also points out that there are two sides to this magical place.
She notes in her artist’s statement that 500 million tourists visit Venice each year, staying for an average of five hours.
Hopkins discovered that the mammoth cruise ships which make their way through Venice’s waters, the construction of a dam and the effects of climate change are all taking a toll on the city’s delicate ecosystem, which is home to an array of wildlife.
“It was a huge shock to see big cruise ships pull up close to these beautiful old buildings and then to learn more about the effects that they’re having on the lagoon,” she says.
“I did a few trips into the lagoon and I have devoted several paintings to trying to capture the nature and birdlife there.”
Hopkins hopes that her latest exhibition inspires people to take care of their surrounding environment and stop to enjoy the beauty of the simple things in life that often pass us by in today’s non-stop world.
“In all my art I try to uplift people and connect them with the beauty that is around us, and to encourage everyone to try as human beings to conserve and respect that beauty,” she concludes.
Venice Reflections opens on Sunday, September 16, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
For more information on the opening or the exhibition, visit Karen Hopkins’ website.