A sense of belonging through printmaking

Origin Stories: Karen Cornelius

Artist and printmaker Karen Cornelius’ work has followed her across multiple continents.

Karen Cornelius, an artist and printmaker living in Winnipeg, knew she wanted to be an artist since she was a child in the Congo. 

“When I was in third grade, I had to do a poster for class, and it just came so easily to me. From that time on, I knew I was very interested in art,” Cornelius says.

Although Cornelius was born in the United States, she grew up in the Congo. She attended high school in Kenya and returned to the US to receive her bachelor of fine arts from the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia.  

“That’s where I discovered printmaking. It was the first class I took, and I was like, ‘This is the match,’” Cornelius says. 

“It’s a different way of thinking than painting or drawing. Painting and drawing are very direct, whereas in printmaking, you have to think in reverse, because you have to take away or add to complete whatever it is.”

She studied more printmaking methods at the Ottawa School of Art, including Stanley William Hayter’s viscosity technique. 

After learning more traditional printmaking forms, she studied environmentally responsible printmaking techniques from Alfonso Crujera during her residency in the Canary Islands. 

“As I continued to work, especially once my children were born, I started to be much more interested in less toxic, more environmentally responsible ways of working,” she says. 

Cornelius is inspired by people she has met and learned from through her residencies and travels. Her work, however, has a more personal tone. 

“My work is always about place or belonging. I come back to it all the time,” she says. 

Her current work is influenced directly by the COVID-19 pandemic. She has been using what she has around her, more specifically, her hydrangeas. 

“I’ve been drawing them since spring, and (I’m) just really influenced by the anxiety, the fear, the isolation,” she says. “It’s actually super interesting to look at them. You look at them from what was happening when I was drawing them, and then throughout the rest of the year.”

Aside from her artwork, Cornelius has also been helping to educate others through the Manitoba Arts Council’s Artists in Schools program. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornelius was going into schools all over Manitoba to teach about her printmaking practice. Since then, she has been creating videos and putting together kits to send to schools to teach them virtually. 

“In Artists in Schools, I’ve had the opportunity to go and work with students in all these different places. I get to work with the teachers, mentor teachers and mentor local artists, because that was part of the program,” she says. 

For now, she works from home on personal projects and the Artists in Schools program, but she has residencies in Bali and Australia that she is looking forward to once things get back to some kind of normal. 

Cornelius’ work can be found on her website, karencornelius.com, or on Instagram @cornelius.karen. She also has work for sale at Martha Street Studio, where she is a member artist.

Published in Volume 75, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 28, 2021)

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