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Karen Godwin

“You will find my mum
Dancing in the woods at night,
At 12 o’clock,
When the bats come out”

Enjoying myself: an artist and a mother

My son Kym wrote this poem four years ago – it was homework. He had to write it about somebody and he wrote it about his mum, he wrote it about me. That’s one of my treasured possessions, that piece of paper.

I find it quite difficult having true confidence in myself and standing up for myself. I’m getting a lot better. I’m just beginning to believe in myself as an artist. I’m 34-years old and I’m only just beginning to be confident enough to stand up and say, “Yes, this is who I am”, “Yes, I can draw”. I find that very difficult to stand up and say even though people meeting me think that I’m very confident. I am always apologising for my artwork and the other members of our Art Group (BLAG) hassle me because of this. I don’t know why I do this, because in my heart I know it’s good. It’s just as valid as anybody else’s artwork. But it’s something I’ve carried with me from childhood and sometimes I find it hard to shake off certain mannerisms and things that I did.

When I was a child, I was always the artist in the family, and my family expected me to go on and fully develop that talent but I got a bit side-tracked by life, to be honest. I got very passionate about other stuff, about travelling, about politics, and completely forgot that I could draw. It’s only been the last five years or so that I’ve started getting a few bits of work, being asked to do the artwork, and I would draw, and it would come out really well. So I’m very much in a stage of re-defining who Karen is, in her thirties, and finding out what I’m capable of.

I actually feel more “Karen” than I did ten years ago, and because of that I’m just becoming comfortable with myself. We’re all beautiful, and so Karen is beautiful too. I’m just more comfortable now than I was when I was 20 years old. I’m not as … all over the place. In my twenties, I didn’t actually know who I was, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life.

I don’t really regret much that I did in my life because it all helps to get me where I am today. It has not been lost time, moving on to travellers’ sites, getting very caught up in that kind of lifestyle – the free parties, the festivals, all that kind of being young and energetic and passionate about trying to create a new way of living. I met up with this group of people who were all very similar to me and we actually believed that we were going to take on the world and change the world. Now I realise, in my thirties, that actually, everybody goes through that. We were living in the woods, in buses and vans that didn’t work and thousands of us turning up and creating festivals and truly believing that that energy was unstoppable, and we could create something that was going to change the world, trying to tread as lightly as possible. A low impact way of living, living in tune with the weather, the planet, each other.

And dancing, we all had a different story, a different reason for being there. We just wanted to dance, to connect. The Sioux, the Cheyenne, when they realised their civilisation was over they started to dance. The ghost dance, in the face of soldiers threatening to shoo t them; Shiva dancing at the end of the world.

 

I wanted a more fulfilling life, more than the general thing that I was expected to do. My dad’s fantastic! … A real armchair socialist who was brought up to provide for his family, no matter what. So he’s very much of that old-fashioned attitude. He has very strong beliefs but I'm more likely than him to act on my beliefs. My mum’s just very loving, doesn’t have many wants or ambitions in life…it’s hard to describe it without feeling like I’m putting her down, but I’m not at all - she’s very content. She doesn’t understand where I’m coming from, so just nods and smiles..

I do feel that I spent too much time with festivals and free parties and drugs. They were so distracting and then all of a sudden, you’re 30! What happened to all that time? Yes, I was having a good time, I was doing lots of partying, but I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, because I now have a 12-year old son and I wouldn’t particularly want him to follow the same route. I would never say that it was wasted time, because I have a beautiful son. I had him when I was 23, and he’s been a constant good thing in my life. He’s an incredibly handsome lad. And I, as silly as it sounds, just want him to be happy. I want him to find something that he is passionate about. I want him to find a passion because I spent so long just floating, never getting that passionate about something that I could then take on to a new level. If he came to me and said, “I’m passionate about drawing…”, I would love him to pursue it. I encourage my son, saying “You have a famous artist’s blood within you”. We are directly related to Toulouse Lautrec, who is my great-granddad’s cousin. My mother’s family is a Toulouse family.

When I was in my twenties, I was trying to change the world by shouting about it. Whereas now, I believe that you can still change the world around you just by quietly making it beautiful, and quietly smiling at strangers. That sounds nutty, but it’s still working towards the same target. My energies have changed quite a lot. I go about things in a different way. I used to get really passionate about stuff. I still do. I get passionate about the environment, I get passionate about washable nappies and plastic bags, and I have been known to get up on my pedestal and start ranting about Nestlé. All that is still there in me but I’ve learnt to chill out and accept that other people don’t see things the same way that I see them and that if I get on my soapbox and I start shouting about it, then people stop listening.

 

My artwork and the life of meaning

I never seem to do things without a meaning. Everything always has to have a meaning for me – even if nobody else can see it...

I’ve worked for many years as a henna artist. That suits my style very much because I like to flow. I’ve been experimenting with lots of different mediums. I’m only just starting out on this journey. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy working with clay. I’ve just made a really beautiful Earth goddess sculpture – Gaia. I'd just given birth to my daughter, Indigo Rose (Rosie) and was pregnant with my second, Mistifae, and I wanted to do something with that energy. That’s the first sculpture I’ve ever made in clay, and every time I’ve done any painting, or two-dimensional stuff, it hasn’t been quite right, it hasn’t been what I’ve envisioned in my head, whereas this I found very easy. It just came out of my head and came out really well. So clay is definitely my medium.

I couldn’t sell the sculpture because it was the first I had made and I was pregnant while I did her. There is a lot of emotion tied up in it. Maybe that’s why I’m not a very good commercial artist – because I have always sold stuff but not work that I'm emotionally attached to. Maybe if I was able to churn out more of them, I would stop being so precious about them. I think I’d start by thinking quite small, selling small prints of my artwork cheaply, rather than larger pieces that sell for lots of money. But I do get attached to pieces that I create. I am not motivated by money.

The painting is actually thoughts of summer sunrises, and how I felt at the dawn, and also being at Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice. Just energy spiralling out of the top of my head…I suppose like my life, really, I’m just trying to look for the sacred spark that’s in everything.

We celebrate the Solstice, we don’t actually celebrate Christmas in our house. My children have Mother Solstice, rather than Father Christmas, and they have all their presents. We do essentially Christmas Day, but it happens on the 22nd. We stopped doing Christmas and started doing the Solstice a few years ago. I was very upset because Christmas is so commercial. We’re not Christians so there was no spiritual aspect to it for us. It was just a pure giving presents, “What can I get?” Consumerism…All of a sudden it had a meaning for us, and it had a meaning for my children, something that they could be celebrating – the sun returning. Instead of our Christmas cake with the normal scenes on it, we have a big fat sun iced on the Christmas cake.

I don’t believe in God, but I definitely like to look for the spiritual side in things. I can appreciate a lot of good art, but I am looking if something’s trying to capture that spark that’s in everything, that makes everything divine.

I don’t believe in a being that’s outside of us. I don’t believe in a father figure or an alien but I do believe in that spark of life that’s in everything, that causes a tree to grow in that particular way. You can’t worship something without personifying it, and so it’s the easiest thing in the world to turn it either into a male or a female figure like us. But I think when people start forgetting that it’s just a personification, and people start believing in it enough that they’re prepared to kill others for it, then we’re getting into a really dark side of human nature.

People on Blackbird Leys are usually quite interested in my views on things. More and more people seem to be aware that something is missing in their lives, a need that isn't filled by consumerism and orthodox religions. Herbalism and aromatherapy are becoming more mainstream these days. We all want beauty in our lives. And so they're more open to new ideas, even if they wouldn't do it themselves. The fear of being different stifles so many people. Or maybe they're just humouring me…

About love, marriage and friendship
I met people who inspired me. My partner. His name is Luke.

It kind of all came together. He made me feel – and he still does – that I’m beautiful and talented, and I can do anything that I want to do. That just seems such a basic thing but I didn’t feel that before. I didn’t have someone just believe in me. And I slowly begin to think, “Yes, I am beautiful. And I am talented. And I can do this”. It changes the way that you see yourself…I started going back… and it came together around at the same time that my son had started school. All of a sudden I wasn’t a 24-hour carer any more.

I had time for myself, and so I started going back to college. It all happened at the same time. Along with Luke, I then met his friends who were part of this free party scene in Oxford, “The Tribe of Isis”, and Debbie, who’s part of that as well. She is an incredible lady – she just does it! She just paints, she just sews, she just does it and I was just looking at her and others in the group, thinking, “This is who I should…” instead of wallowing in so many dreams, but not actually doing anything. I should just get on with it and do it. So it was really inspiring to be with creative people because it started my creativity coming back out.

My partner’s very good. He has a way of cutting through all the rubbish that I come out with and then picking up on the one thing that is the essence of what I’m waffling on about. He’s a very good listener.

I was in a long-term marriage with Jason. He’s my best friend now - we’re split up, but he’s my closest friend. I talk to him regularly on the phone, he comes up and sees his boy. He lives in Plymouth and he’ll be spending the Solstice and Christmas Period with us. We get on incredibly well…he’s very much like my brother, and I value him being in my life very much. My son knows that his parents love each other.

We’ve worked really hard not to blame each other and to go back to the friendship that we had before …but when we split up, obviously we were angry with each other, and hurt by each other, and needed to be away from each other. I wanted him to be in my life, as we genuinely love each other, so we had to forgive and just let things go, for our son, for us. We realised that we don't work as a couple but make really good friends. If we're going to change the structure of the family it has to change for the better, to be a bit more evolved than the past.

I had a relationship just after my ex-husband, with this lad called Owen, and looking back on it now it was just a physical relationship. It was a physical attraction but even that played a very important role in developing who I am, because I needed the time of just feeling beautiful. Because I’d been in a long-term relationship, I’d forgotten that I was also a sexual being. For him to come along and find me sexually attractive was a huge revelation. Luke’s always saying, “If it’s not fun, then it’s learning” and there’s always a lesson. It's from Illusions by Richard Bach, and it helps me deal with difficult situations, reminding me to look for that silver lining, and hopefully to learn. For so long I kept making the same mistakes, not taking responsibility for myself.

There’s valuing someone and being aware that you value them. Or there’s not being aware, and just taking them for granted. I’ve certainly done that. But whether you’re aware of it or not, if you love someone, then you must value them, because it’s love. I think I could value someone without loving them. But I don’t think I could love someone without valuing them, even if I don’t realise it. Because love and respect go together. When I truly love, I value and respect them automatically.

I met people who inspired me. My partner

He’s got very crinkly eyes and I find that incredibly attractive about him. To be honest I don’t know if I could suddenly fall in love with a 50-year old man and find him sexually attractive, but I could grow old with Luke and carry on finding him sexually attractive.

His name is Luke.

And when I first got my first line here, on my face…I actually thought that I was above this. “No, I’m not scared of getting old. I’m not”.

And then I got another line, and I know that it’s because I smile quite a lot, and I didn’t realise, until my Luke told me that I have a wonky face and I smile more on this side. That’s why I’ve suddenly got this line.

And I’ve got everything already.
I'm fulfilled.
I am.

November 2005