An interview with Kareena Zerefos
By Emma-Kate Wilson
Kareena Zerefos is an artist who invites you to engage with the playful side of your personality. Her works can seem to act as a screening for the imagination of a little child who spends her days drifting through fields and playing with made-up mythical creatures. Within Zerefos’ artwork, the line moves softly and delicately around figures, inspired by growing up surround by bushland, animals, cars and fabric. Figures that embody her four-legged flatmate or characters from the stories she surrounds herself with.
Kareena didn’t come from an art background, mentioning only a ‘mysterious’ painter cousin from Greece that she would see on rare occasions, but that little sparkle that starts within an artist who led her parents to take her to art galleries from a young age. One exhibition she saw when she was in London during her teens stands out to her. At the Dali Universe exhibition, she found herself drawn to his watercolours, amazed and in awe of his work. You can see his attention detail, and varied use of colour and mythological figures left an impact on her own creative skill when looking at her whimsical watercolours.
I found it interesting that Kareena shared she only stumbled upon watercolours by accident, along with graphite, ink, and biro, as that was what she had lying around in the early days. However, clearly, Kareena loved watercolours since she was at least ten when she joined her school’s watercolour club. She expressed so beautifully: “there’s something about the translucency and luminosity of watercolours that draws me to them. I also find them interesting culturally and historically, particularly their use in botanical and wildlife illustration, and also scroll painting.”
Her childlike nature of play with her painting style started at a young age, but the attention to detail and artistic talent was fine-tuned during her design degree at UNSW Art and Design 10 years ago, or even recently during her Masters of Fine Art which she decided to undertake last year.
Zerefos believes that a degree, while isn’t essential does allow the artist to become a professional, university takes you through the steps to make you challenge yourself. An important message she points out - that university isn’t always about getting the piece of paper at the end, instead, creating opportunities for yourself. For Zerefos the decision to go back to university to complete a masters once again links her to self-expansion. Art school will make you push yourself and complete the tasks you start. It also forces you to try new things, a key lesson for most artists.
This expansion is clearly demonstrated in her work Tama. An exploration to reground and an attempted to ‘let go’ with her painting. She mixed up her methods by “working on the ground, and mostly outside, I painted in watercolours with my hands, or with a brush on a long stick, and occasionally I would revert (almost unconsciously) to working up close with a fine brush. I would review the work, and remind myself to let go.” Taking herself out of the studio into nature to draw inspiration, and to connect to a process without judgement- a process similar to a type of meditation. Her work became “a response to a cultural, and innately personal, discontentment; the restlessness, the addiction to instant gratification, and hyperstimulation; symptoms of ‘progression’ and technological advancement.” I love that Kareena took herself out of what I feel is the daily grind of over simulation.
“It is devastating to be living in a political/economic environment that does not value the arts as an important and integral part of our community, culture and society. It just seems archaic to me, and truly regressive.”
I feel like this is entirely Australian for me, as a foreigner from a small village in the middle of the UK. The need to build communities and create links between the locals - something that may sometimes get lost in the incredibility competitive contemporary art industry. I think this is truly amazing given the own government doesn’t seem to want to support the artists. The recent cuts to the arts being unjust, as Kareena highlights: “It is devastating to be living in a political/economic environment that does not value the arts as an important and integral part of our community, culture and society. It just seems archaic to me, and truly regressive.”
So maybe in light of this what she’s done in Freshwater seems that little bit more special to me. She’s making waves and showing to the future artists growing up in our chilled-out suburb that if you love what you’re doing, you should keep doing it, even if you have to change the system to make it work for you.