Approved: 16.08.2006

Karen Melvin


Approved: 16.08.2006

Karen Melvin uses photography, drawing, text and paint to construct images that examine our relationship to the natural world. The work challenges our perception of the idyll of nature, bringing up issues around sustenance, consumer culture and a disposable earth, the hidden violence of a polluted world. 

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  • Location: Hexham, North East
  • Artforms: Digital, Drawing, Film & video, Painting, Photography
  • Tags: architecture & environment, birds, environment, climate change, mixed media, scroll, black & white, dead birds, heron, indigo bunting, bones, documentary, environmental, scroll bird landscape globe water reflections yellowhammer buds, thrush


Karen Melvin uses photography, drawing, text and paint to construct images that examine our relationship to the natural world. The work challenges our perception of the idyll of nature, bringing up issues around sustenance, consumer culture and a disposable earth, the hidden violence of a polluted world. 

Recent ongoing work, Marginal Extinctions, reflects on the loss of species and habitats. Dead birds, little scraps of nature and found debris are merged with drawings from sketchbooks and found images. Finding and tracking the small insignificant deaths of birds in a garden, domestic “memento mori”, mirrors the complexity of environmental change and catastrophe. 

Space in a picture tells a story in different ways. Her work is domestic, starting in the garden. She reimagines this space, literally deconstructing, separating onto white paper, isolating details from their context. She uses space with no single perspective point, to allow free flowing associations between multiple view points and media genres. The long scroll format of Marginal Extinctions allows a sense of narrative time that includes fragments of lost moments, gathering memories from a continuum, choosing images of flight, journey and death.

“I rarely see a honeybee these days. If I find a dead bird I feel I need to record its feathered beauty and then, even its decay. What kind of associations does it call up? What unique narrative? The fear that wild creatures will be a rare event is overwhelming. Our fast changing environment is rapidly running out of balance.” Karen Melvin

Career path:

I studied Fine Art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (BA Hons), lectured in photography at Newcastle Polytechnic and most recently at Cleveland College of Art and Design for fifteen years, was three times adviser on photography for Northern Arts and was a founding member and arts adviser for the environmental project, Ladycross Nature and Art. I was photographer in residence for the Middlesbrough 2000 Millennium Festival working with community groups, using environmental and dramatised portraiture. I received a Northern Arts award and an A4E Lottery grant in 1996 for the project Fairy Tale, Myth and the Landscape, resulting in exhibition and performance, The Seal Woman, and a Visual Arts 1996 grant for The Four Winds Stone Circle, a collaborative environmental art project. With "Frocks in the Cupboard; Life is a Series of...." I created a series of portraits and stories of women in clothing with a transformative significance.

I have returned to woodland, the garden, and the northern (and contrastingly the deep southern US) landscape as subject and background in various guises from my early documentation of hill farmers to the representation of ancient woodland and how it relates to the psychology and setting of fairy tales and mythology. "Rapunzel" looks at ecological struggles and conflicts of protection and freedom. I photographed four friends in ancient woodlands along with woodland floral carpets and trees, installing the images across the wall in a non-linear way. "Constellation " represents the night sky in a still life setting resonating with mythology and domestic narrative. In "Down South" and "Sisters" I look at my family roots in the USA and my relationship with my sister and how the sub tropical environment affects my understanding. "Paper Dolls" incorporates portraiture and self-portraiture in a still life setting. Paper dolls were part of my childhood play of fantasy and social exploration. The use of scale and juxtaposition of figures and objects creates an imaginary space, a collision of different realms, throwing light on dynamics between parent and child, male and female, youth and age.

CV & Education

Solo exhibitions

2010 - Beyond Paper Dolls, Art @ 830, Key West, Florida, USA 

2006 - Karen Melvin's Paper Dolls, Queens Hall Art Centre, Hexham

2006 - Pavilion, Round Foundry Media Centre, Leeds 2005 - Paper Dolls, Myles Meehan Gallery, Darlington

2004 - Paper Dolls In Progress & Constellation, MAC Centre, Birmingham

2002 - Constellation, Gateshead Library Gallery, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear

001 - All Heaven and Earth, Tom Blau Gallery, London

2000 - Pride - Middlesbrough 2

000, Millennium Dome, London and tour

997 - Seal woman, exhibition and performance, Queen's Hall Art Centre Gallery, Hexham, Northumberland and Real Art tour

1986 - Devils water, Queens Hall Gallery, Northumberland

1982 - Blanchland Moor to Hexhamshire, Wansbeck Square Gallery, Ashington, Northumberland and tour

1981 - Two worlds, Moot Hall, Hexham, Northumberland

1980 - Idonesia, DLI Arts Centre, Durham City

1976 - Unity in Diversity, Taman Ismael National Art Gallery, Jakarta, Indonesia

1973 - American wooden buildings and the rural scene, Bede Gallery, Tyne and Wear and tour

Group exhibitions:

2014, Open Up North, Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal (third prize winner)

2014- Art Squared, Forge, Allendale, Northunberland

2013- Photographs 15, Shepherds Dene, Northumberland

2012 - 28: A Celebration of the Myles Meehan Gallery, Darlington Arts Centre, Darlington, Co Durham

2012 - Hospitality and Harmony, Shepherds Dene, Riding Mill, Northumberland

012 - Points of Conjecture, Duchess Gallery, Kielder, Northumberland

2010 - Dover Prize, Myles Meehan Gallery, Darlington

2009 - Water, Queens Hall Arts Centre, Hexham 2008 - Bridging, Kirkharle Courtyard, Northumberland, UK & Brisbane, Australia

2008 - Green Thoughts in a Green Shade, The Garden Station, Langley, Northumberland

2008 - Shakespeare and the Natural World, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

2007 - Edge 2, Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

2007 - Shakespeare, the Artists' View, Gossipgate Gallery, Alston, Northumberland

2007 - Sheds, The Garden Station, Langley, Northumberland 2005 - ...some food for thought, Queen's Hall Gallery, Hexham

005 - Borealis 1, Flowers East, London

2005 - New new, New old, Kent Gallery, Key West, Florida, USA

2005 - The Unlimited Dream Company or An Atlas of Imaginary Places, The Biscuit Factory, Newcastle upon Tyne

2005 - Thinking the Unthinkable or Against Nature, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear

2003 - Dialogue with the Environment, Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk

2002 - Ancient Woodland and Venerable Trees, Queens Hall Art Centre, Hexham, Northumberland

2002 - International Women's Festival: We Create, University of Teeside, Middlesbrough

2002 - On the Edge, The Moot Hall, Hexham, Northumberland

2000 - 2000 Print Auction, Houston Centre for Photography, Texas, USA

2000 - Signpost, Queens Hall Art Centre, Hexham, Northumberland

2000 - The Egg and I, Helia Gallery, Key West, Florida, USA

1999 - Frozen Moments, The Discovery Centre, Bishop Auckland, Durham

1998 - The artist revealed, Prudhoe Arts Centre, Northumberland 

1998 - The Royal Photographic Society International Print Exhibition, Bath and tour

1997 - Celebration, Hexham Abbey, Northumberland

1996 - Claremorris Open, Ireland

1996 - Middlesbrough Open, Cleveland Gallery, Teeside

1996 - New Work, Collingwood College, Durham

1996 - The Dawn of the Millennium, Tynedale Open, Hexham, Northumberland

1995 - Frocks in the Cupboard, Life is a series of ..., The Buddle, Tyne and Wear and tour

1994 - Resourceful Women, Flaxman Gallery, Staffordshire

1994 - The Nine Muses, Hexham Abbey, Northumberland

1994 - Who We Are, Women '94, Zone Gallery, Newcastle and Tour

1993 - Binding Books, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

1993 - Leaving These Things, Stamfordham Gallery, Northumberland

1990 - Laing Exhibition, University of Northumbria Gallery

1990 - The Garden, Photography and Maze, Newcastle Arts Centre Gallery and Tour

Competitions, prizes and awards:

2014- Third Prize winner in Open Up North, Brewey Arts Centre, Kendal

2005 - The Great North Art Affair, Angela Flowers East, London

2004 - Exhibition Production Award for Paper Dolls, Arts Council England , North East, Newcastle upon Tyne

2002 - Mentoring Scheme Award, Arts Council England, North East, Newcastle upon Tyne