Season Two – Karena Keys

Image credit: Toni Bailey

Karena Keys

Season 2 – Episode 4


Instagram handle @karkeys1

Blender 3D animation:


Nick Breedon 0:00
Hi, I’m Nick Breedon,

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:01
and I’m Kiera Brew Kurec

Nick Breedon 0:03
and you’re listening to Pro Prac a podcast

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:05
A podcast where we explore the professional practice of artists and hear their stories.

Nick Breedon 0:10
Today by a telephone we have artist Karena Keys. Karena Keys graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Visual Arts with honors from the painting workshop at ANU school of Art, and in 2012 graduated from Sydney College of the Arts with a Masters of Fine Art. Karena’s art practice sits within the expanded field of painting. She uses materials to explore emotional and physical tensions through sculpture, installation, drawing and animation and has exhibited in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Launceston, London and Eindhoven. While maintaining her arts practice, Karena has worked in a variety of roles within the art sector, including visual arts educator and public programs officer Casula Powerhouse Art Center, from 2017 to 2019, she was the gallery manager at Anca incorporated in Canberra, where she initiated the art bus project and outreach exhibition space. In April Karena began working as a visual arts program manager at Tuggeranong Art Center in Canberra. Thanks so much for joining us via phone Karena.

Karena Keys 1:11
Thanks for inviting me.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:13
So happy to have you on the show. So do you mind starting off by telling us the story of how you became an artist?

Karena Keys 1:22
Sure, I grew up in Canberra, and the youngest of seven. Big family. We grew up in a small little three bedroom house, public public housing house. So at one stage, there were four boys in one room in two bunk beds, and three girls in the other. So it was a very full house. My, my parents, they did the bare minimum schooling like school terms. But my dad did a lot of self education, and was very interested in, in art in a kind of classical sense of what art is. So paintings that look like real life things. And he really enjoyed music. And he would spend when I was young, young as in before High School, a lot of his weekends he spent painting and writing. The paintings were generally he was copying things from magazines and different pictures that he likes horses and half naked ladies and that kind of thing (Laughter). Classic, but I and I would sit there and watch him for quite a long time I have memories of sitting there at the kitchen table. And he would just be painting and I’d be watching. I really enjoyed seeing the material and how he could manipulate it to look like things.

Kiera Brew Kurec 3:17
Was he painting in like acrylics or oils or drawing?

Karena Keys 3:21
It was oils. So he enjoyed art and he enjoyed painting. And my understanding of art was very much what his understanding of art was. So we didn’t often we’d never went to the art like the National Gallery or anything like that. But he would like to talk about painters like Renoir and Rembrandt, and, you know, he was interested in that really kind of classical sense of art. My mum, she is a very practical woman, and she would sew and knit and so I sometimes she would sew things for money for people like she’d I would remember her making these massive set of velvet curtains with someone once and different clothes and she’d make things for the family as well. And I would often help so I think, in their own way, you know, they kind of influenced me in how, I guess the kind of way to work with materials or you know, just this kind of interest in creating things, making things out of stuff. But I never really thought of being an artist. It wasn’t really something that I thought was a career path. I had no understanding of knowledge of art outside of like, the 19th century, you know, beyond beyond that. I did however, like at high school and college, I did study art a lot. And I actually relied a lot on my art teachers and textile teacher for, I guess, emotional support, in a lot of ways. It was kind of a, it was a really safe space. And I was lucky enough to have really lovely teachers, who really, I guess, maybe recognized something in me that I hadn’t even noticed myself or didn’t even think was a thing, if that makes sense. And so, yeah, there was lots of time spent in art rooms, and um in college in the, beacue in Canberra college is a separate year 11. And 12 is a separate school. And, and so my textiles teacher, there was a real support, college was really tough. I had a really awful time as a teenager, and low, you know, low self esteem and someone, I think I internalize a lot of things, and my parents weren’t very emotionally articulate, and weren’t really able to offer me I don’t think the kind of emotional support that maybe would have been beneficial as a struggling teenager, but they did the best that they could. And I was lucky to, I guess, find that support with teachers. And my sister, my older sisters, and even their friends. And it wasn’t, I had a bit of a low point. I know, this sounds like a roundabout story. But it actually was really important. When I was thinking about this was I had this terrible group of friends that I kind of traveled through high school with and then, you know, stayed within college. And they were really also like, they made me feel really awful about myself, and to the point where I just didn’t want to go to college anymore. And one of my sisters friends, was over one morning, and I’d kind of just had taken the day off from school I was in year 11. And she could see that I was upset. And so she offered to take me out for a drive. She wanted to go buy some cigarettes and so I was like yeah, okay I will go. So she really recognized that something was wrong. And she sat and took the time to talk to me, you know, we spent quite a time just to Kippax fair sitting at the skate park there. And she asked what was wrong, and I said, you know, these people are awful to me. And it makes me want to not go to school and and she said, you know, some really wise things, which was just, you know, you’re, you’re, and you’re, you know, you’re kind of like a young adult, you can take control of your life, and you can make decisions that help you. And you can make the decision to, to not be friends with them anymore. And then I was like, Well, you know, what am I going to do? Who am I going to hang out with at lunchtime? You know, that kind of being part of a social group. Because, you know, it’s like a safety net in a lot of ways. And even though it can be destructive. And so she said, well, what is it that you like, what classes do you like? And I said, I really like ceramics. And I really like art and I really like textiles And so she said, well just do that hang out in the textiles room, or, you know, just spend your time. You know, use your energy in a really positive way to try and make the most of the time that you have there. And she’s like, you’ve, you know, it’s lunchtime and you have no one to sit with and just go for a walk or just, you know, just kind of get out of that space. And it was and I really listened to what she said.

Kiera Brew Kurec 9:52
Its great advice, it’s so nice of her to take that time to speak with you.

Karena Keys 9:59
Yeah. And I did make changes, I just, I stopped talking to those people and I did hang out in the textiles room. And I did go for lots of walks, which probably was really beneficial for my mental health. And, and in doing that, I really allowed space to make new friendships. Really, really great friendships, which, you know, I’ve retained some of them even now. And, you know, because these people had a level of emotional maturity and compassion, and really kind of respected me, which was nice. It was unusual, but it was nice. Yeah. Um, and, and it was actually one of the friends that I made at college, in the textiles room, who encouraged me to go to art school years later. So when I finished college, I wanted to pursue fashion design. And so I studied for a year at CIT doing fashion design, which I really enjoyed. And I made some great friendships and but I was also quite young, and totally flaked out on that. But I also felt like it wasn’t really the right path. I remember reading an article, one lunchtime when I was your know, was at work. And I was just on my lunch break down in the Woolworths tea room. And I remembered reading this article about all these different fashion houses and how they’re all owned by really the same two companies. And that felt really, yeah, insight felt really. It just felt pointless. It’s like, what is this? It’s not really creative. It’s these people, just kind of managing all these other people. And yeah, it just didn’t seem very sincere. And so then I wasn’t really sure what to do. And I stopped studying for about a year and yeah, my friend, Lara, who I went to college with, she had started art school, straight out of college. And she really encouraged me to go. And I didn’t even know that. Like, I didn’t even really know what art school was. I didn’t, I didn’t know that. You know, I didn’t even really know that it existed. I didn’t know that you could be an artist. I didn’t know that people were artists like it just Yeah, it sounds really silly.

Nick Breedon 13:14
But it’s like pre internet. That’s what all of us went to uni at that time just being like, art school? Sure?

Kiera Brew Kurec 13:21
I knew that I liked art, but I didn’t know what was gonna happen there. ,

Nick Breedon 13:26
Like some weird Fame esk kind of hallucination. With less dancing and more cigarettes.(Laughter).

Karena Keys 13:39
I’m and I just, I had never even really considered University as an option, either. Like no one in my, like my parents didn’t finish high school. All of my older brothers. I don’t I think maybe one of them went to college. And my eldest sister had started a uni degree. but not finished, and it just like my parents never discouraged University, but they never encouraged it. They never. It was never presented as an option. Which I actually remember talking to someone recently about that. And they were saying how, questioning how these kind of you know, there’s this, how people kind of get in this cycle of unemployment and, you know, these whole families of people who, who who don’t do further study and have have very limited career outlooks. And I just felt that their comments were coming from a really privileged place where they come from this family where they’ve had parents who have gone to university or, you know, like, it’s just, if we don’t have people modeling it around you, then you don’t see it as being a viable option.

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:04
Yeah a lot of things and not accessible to everyone, even though, like they, you know, people think that they are.

Nick Breedon 15:11
Yeah, yeah. And even like, you know, when it’s not presented as really a thing, but also, like you’re pursuing a degree that maybe a lot of people in your family or your kind of circile would think that is not a legitimate thing to pursue as, as a kind of tertiary education. You know, certainly in my family, it was like, are you going to go to all the effort to go to university and then what are you going to you get to get a fine arts degree, like, what’s that for? (Laughter)

Karena Keys 15:42
Yeah, that’s totally true. So, yeah, that’s kind of how it started. And I did the, the application, the interview, and I was really nervous. I thought that I hadn’t got in and I kept calling the painting department until like, I think, eventually, I got through to Ruth Waller. And she was like, of course you are in!.

Nick Breedon 16:11
Stop calling.

Karena Keys 16:15
Bassically! Stop leaving messages. But um, and I really loved it instantly. Like it really. It felt so good. I’ve never felt like I, I had never really identified with a large group of people before. And it really felt really wonderful. being around people who felt similarly to me, thought similarly, or like, you could even just talk about thoughts.

Nick Breedon 16:52
Ah you found your people?

Karena Keys 16:53
Yeah I found my people. And I’ve met, you know, everyone, you know, you make these, universities a really great time i think. Because you are able to surround yourself with people who are like you, and make these really great friendships that really last a really long time. But it wasn’t until much later that I actually could call myself an artist.

Nick Breedon 17:32
Interesting. What was the what was the sort of tipping point for you? Was there like, to be able to identify yourself as an artist or?

Karena Keys 17:42
Yeah, there really was. And I remember feeling really jealous because a friend who was in the same year at art school, as me, he, he came to art school after selling a few paintings. He’d been in some some shows and had some recognitions, like interstate. And I remember talking with him, and he just would refer to himself as an artist. Like, yeah, I’m an artist. He introduced himself as an artist, even though he was at art school. And I was like, Wow, that’s really cool that like, he can, he can just do that. Yeah. And I think I struggled with it, because I just didn’t feel whether it was like, I didn’t feel like I was yet or it felt like, like, putting, I felt like if I called myself an artist, then I had to prove that in some way. And I but I think I didn’t really start calling myself an artist till after art school. And, and even then, it was hard because I was still working alot yeah, I always worked a lot. A lot of hours. And, and so it felt like oh, you know, I’m an artist, but I also do this. Yeah, I’m an artist, but I also do that.

Kiera Brew Kurec 19:06
I forgot if I’ve already mentioned this on an episode before but the first time that I put on like a airoplane like when you’re going overseas, and you’re filling out your customs, your immigration form, and you have to put down your occupation I had always put down like waitress, and then the first time that I put down artists, I was like, it felt like something shifted. And it was this massive moment for me like filling out my form. And you know, there’s just hundreds of people going past like doing whatever but for me, like writing that down was like, I think it wasn’t the first time that I guess I had called myself an artist but It was the first time that it was like for me like actually acknowledging that that’s what I am and that’s what I do, I even had a little bit of a tear about it like standing there and you know, no one like yeah, the guy that read it probably like you took one look at me and was like whatever (Laughter).

Karena Keys 19:58
That is a beautiful story.

Nick Breedon 20:05
Do you think it was the the sort of the point where it tipped over to being more of your full time occupation or like, you know, was was occupying a majority of your time?

Karena Keys 20:19
It’s never it’s never occupied majority. Which sounds like a really an odd thing to say. It’s good. It’s confidence, I think. Yeah. And maybe getting some peer recognition. So, being in exhibitions and getting some feedback, and maybe getting a couple of grants, or I guess that kind of gave me the confidence to start using that. Yeah. And also, yeah, so changing a mindset to I am a waitress or, you know, bar manager or, you know, do these other things, but I’m an artist. Yeah, primarily. So yeah. And I do write it on my kids school enrollment forms that I am an artist which is empowering.

Kiera Brew Kurec 21:28
So when you’re at uni, did you major in a particular area?

Karena Keys 21:35
Yes. I majored in painting. I went to art school, wanting to go through painting, primarily because I suppose that’s what I saw my dad doing. And I, the interesting thing is, well, I find it interesting is that I started art school, my portfolio of images were all like life drawings, and these paintings of the figure and really representational things. And I, I thought, when I started art school, that I was just gonna become this really amazing figurative painter, because that’s what art was.

Nick Breedon 22:17

Kiera Brew Kurec 22:18

Karena Keys 22:20
And I’m totally not that.

Nick Breedon 22:29
I’m still there actually. (Laughter)

Karena Keys 22:34
I remember I think it was in first or second year painting, just, you know, all the lectures and like, the wonderful lectures that I had Vivienne Binns, Ruth Waller and Peter Maloney, and the way that they would talk about paint and painting, and I really started to feel really excited about its potential as the material so my, my journey as a painter really became primarily about the materiality of the, you know, paint and what it could do and how I could use it to create shapes. And in a way, kind of merge it with textiles. And how shapes and forms are created with fabric, you know, fabrics, kind of like a 2d material, it’s what you paint on often. But it’s also can create these really volumous Yeah, just crazy shapes from this flat material. And I kind of I started thinking, Well, why can’t paint do the same thing? And it’s kind of extended and morphed a little bit, but that was where it really started. And so since graduating, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve, you know, in Canberra at the art school there, they have this award program at the end of your degree, where different, The university has patrons and they offer prizes, different prizes at the at the end of the year to the graduating students and I was really lucky to get one of the most coveted awards at the time, which was the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, residency and exhibition, which was really important because having a space to make work when you finish university is really it’s a real help. And it really helps you set up habits, good habits at maintaining a practice. And Cambra, Contemporary Art Space was such, you know, a really pivotal kind of place for a lot of artists in Canberra. And they offer a lot of support and opportunity to ensure that Canberra artists keep making work and kind of staying in Canberra for a while as well. One of the biggest, you know, problems, issues the arts in Canberra is, especially when I graduated in the years before me is that so many people would move to Melbourne and Sydney. And there weren’t a lot of artists kind of in that emerging and mid career kind of area who was sticking around. It’s changed quite a bit now, which is really wonderful to see. So I got that. And then through the support of CCAS I was nominated for an amazing award that QANTAS was running. And I received some flights and money to travel to Berlin, where I met some wonderful people (Laughter). And then to New York as well. And LA, it was really great. And I had never been overseas before. I had hardly traveled outside of Canberra before. So it was it was such a great opportunity to go and live somewhere somewhere else for three months. And you know, Berlin is a really wonderful creative city. And seeing lots of art, but it was really amazing. Then continuing just making work, and trying to get into shows applying for things like the admin time of being an artist is actually quite extraordinary.

Nick Breedon 27:17
yes, we will get into.

Karena Keys 27:24
Yeah, I mean, I have been really lucky and, and had some great opportunities. I’ve had people believe in my practice, even when I haven’t myself. And that’s been really important. And I started teaching a little bit like tutoring, not teaching high school kids or primary school kids, but just teaching art workshops, which I really enjoyed, and was a really wonderful way to think about art and share, share my knowledge and hear what other people had to say. As a way of making money as an artist, I really, really working in public programs and facilitating art workshops is really a great way to spend your time and make some money. And I really believe in art education as well. Yeah, I’m realizing now with two little kids and, and looking at their primary school and how art is taught in primary school and just seeing how tokenistic it is, and how closed off it is. And and I guess the benefits of it arn’t necessarily understood or used to their potential the opportunity also for problem solving and you know, teaching resilience.

Kiera Brew Kurec 29:07
I guess it also goes back to what you were saying earlier about, even like when you are a child creating accessibility, to the arts for people that isn’t through formal structures of education. school or university is allowing children or adults to be able to engage in the arts, through whatever programs that could be become available, either through like council or local art spaces that are Yeah, they’re really important spaces, learning spaces,

Nick Breedon 29:38
Community spaces. Yes. Absolutely. So you’ve touched on a fair bit actually already in for this next question, but what have been some of the biggest challenges or things you’ve needed to overcome to keep practicing throughout your career?

Karena Keys 30:01
Um, my initial kind of thought for this question was, was saying things like time and space. But I actually thought that that wasn’t really true because the I think the real challenge and the real hurdle has been, like the negativity in my own head. That little voice that tells me that I’m not good enough or tells me that there’s no point or tells me that yeah, just that native little voice. Because if, if I listened to that or pay that too much attention, then I don’t find the time or I don’t find the space. Yeah. And I don’t value, I don’t value that part of myself. That I think that’s the biggest challenge is just fighting that constant. And I don’t know if everyone has it. Probably a lot of people do, but I just know that. Yeah. I constantly kind of battle with that. Yeah. I even almost quit at school at the end of my third year, or halfway through third year. I almost quit. Because I was like, easier to not. I was worried about, I was worried about failing. So I just was going to stop because it was easier to, I guess, have control of that. Yeah But then my sister said, You’re crazy and just do it.

Kiera Brew Kurec 31:52
It’s really hard, though. It’s a real challenge. And I think it’s, you know, everyone has different experiences. But if you’re at a point where you might not be getting, like support from external support, battling that voice, internally can be really hard. And like, with your sister saying, keep going. I was having a conversation at the start of this year with a mutual friend of ours, who started working in the arts, and has since not really been practicing her painting practice, because just feeling like that there is an audience for their work, where they’re living, and we kind of had this conversation about like, what would it mean to just start making work again, just for yourself? And is that enough, maybe that actually is enough, and maybe through that, something else will happen? But re igniting a relationship with your practice, after you’ve had self doubt or, you know, feeling like you can’t access your practice because of external factors is, it’s a really big process to go through.

Nick Breedon 33:12
Yeah. Because I think those those things that you initially pointed out, like time and space and all of that, it’s like, it’s really, I mean, that stuff is it is the thing, but it’s like, it’s really hard to fight for that stuff and make room for that stuff. When Yeah, when you when you haven’t got that kind of ongoing, just like, yeah, killing it every day. Yeah. Yeah. (Laughter)

Kiera Brew Kurec 33:34
Got the grants. Got the Studio.

Nick Breedon 33:36
When you have self doubt, it is hard to just be like, Oh, you know, I’m going to, you know,

Kiera Brew Kurec 33:42
it’s hard to write an application when you feel like that. (Laughter)

Nick Breedon 33:45
You have to forgo other things to make room for that so you’re like, Okay, I’m not going to clean my house today, I’m actually going to go to the studio, and it’s really hard to like, make yourself do that. When it’s like, you know, it’s nothing really coming up at the moment. Ya know, it’s, it’s really hard to kind of fight for those things when you don’t, you know, not sort the middle of…

Kiera Brew Kurec 34:08
I think that’s, it’s really important to, like, have some champions around you like support, like surround yourself with some people that even if you’re not making are still gonna think that you’re awesome, or what you make is awesome (Laughter). Just so that when you do that they’re there to like, say yes, or that’s great. Even if, you know…

Karena Keys 34:31
I’ll just make a note to text you every coupple of months (Laughter)

Kiera Brew Kurec 34:36
Yeah, totally, I will chapion you!

Nick Breedon 34:39
It’s so you know, and we, you know, whenever you’re disconnected from your community, which is so easy, you know, because of life and life gets in the way in which you’ve got other stuff going on. It’s it’s so easy to get disconnected from the people who really care about you making art but like, it’s so important to stay connected to those to those people in your community that like, you know, just reinforce, yes, you’re doing this, it’s really good what you’re doing it gives me a lot of life and like, you know, vice versa, and that we all kind of support each other. But it’s it’s so easy to kind of break off from that for so many reasons.

Kiera Brew Kurec 35:16
I think when we moved out of the city, that was a big thing for us to have.

Nick Breedon 35:22
It was like we died.

Kiera Brew Kurec 35:23
Yeah. Like banished (Laugher) Yeah, no one wants to talk to you when you don’t live within the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

Karena Keys 35:30
Yeah if you’re not going to, like all the openings, and you’re not there. And that’s a big part of, you know, being in the art scene, you really have to kind of re evaluate what, what being an artist is, you know, because those social networks are important. And if that’s some of that is removed, then, yeah, how do you get what you need, in the shortest amount of time? But also what you need yeah, to kind of keep your practice going.

Nick Breedon 36:09
Well it is interesting to rethink some of those structures, because it is, it is a, an incredible privilege to be able to just, you know, hang out in the inner city of any big city. In the evening, when so many other people have to like work or take care of family or, you know, whatever it is. It’s such a privilege to be able to kind of participate in that sort of time in that place, then it’s like, well, what can we do as an arts community to support or to create community outside of that very narrow window of like, you know, ^ to 8pm on a Thursday night? You know, this, this, there’s not actually that, not not, not everybody can participate.

Kiera Brew Kurec 36:54
On that note, what does a successful practice look like to you?

Karena Keys 37:00
A successful practice is perseverance. Even when you’re not getting into shows, and you’re not, you know, winning prizes, it’s acknowledging that the reality is acknowledging the realities of the system that we’re all kind of working in is a little bit flawed. But persevering, keeping on making some things. I mean, at the moment, as you know, I’ve just kind of started a new job. And I haven’t really been making anything from my own. But I have had this opportunity to have creative outlets and other ways at work. So putting shows together, and, you know, creating, curating shows and working on projects, and, and that’s creative. I think, a successful practice is seeing how you’re being creative in all aspects of your life might not always be making work for an exhibition, but it could be other things. I made an amazing children’s birthday cake the other day.

Kiera Brew Kurec 38:23
Oh my God, Karena is actually know for her cake designs. And yeah, they’re incredible.

Karena Keys 38:35
This one was, it wasn’t cake in the regular sense. It was essentially, it’s called a smash cake. Phoenix, asked for it. And essentially, it’s a chocolate pinata. So I had to like, yeah, temper this chocolate and create this chocolate pinata forhis birthday, which was a real challenge.

Nick Breedon 39:01
That’s insane.

Karena Keys 39:06
And he loved it. And that was great. And it looked amazing.

Kiera Brew Kurec 39:15
I hope you got some good documentation.

Nick Breedon 39:16
Yeah its like the women’s weekly cakes used to blow my mind. (Laughter)

Karena Keys 39:22
But the idea of success as an artist is is really an interesting topic and something that I had been thinking about over the last year or so. Because having kids Obviously, I’m not I don’t have as much time dedicated to my practice as I would like. And then, so I guess, just thinking how I can still identify as an artist which is really important to me, but and maintain my practice, which is also really important to me. But also, I think Success is different for different people. So my own practices and has never been very commercially successful, it’s not really something that I’m interested in. But then that is some people’s measure of success. And that’s totally fine. My measure of success is people like liking well, wanting to talk about what I do.K And finding, having at least one person, you know, in each exhibition, talk to me, who gets it, who gets what my work is about, like, that’s kind of enough for me, which doesn’t sound like much. But, you know, I’m making work and it’s my way of communicating what I want, what I can’t communicate with words. And when someone gets that it’s really empowering. And it feels really amazing. And that’s kind of what keeps keeps things chugging along.

Nick Breedon 41:04
So what does it What does your practice actually look like? Can you give us a rundown of what like a week, say, looks like in the life of Karena Keys, or you can do a day, but I think a week actually gives a pretty a pretty good overview.

Karena Keys 41:26
Well, with Okay, so my partner and I both enjoy staying fit. So we alternate gym days, morning is the only time that we can really fit that in. So on my gym days, I leave the house at like 5:30am and go to the gym, and then come home and start getting the kids ready for school or daycare or whatever it is that they’re doing that day. And try and have the best I’ve actually taken to eating like two eggs a day, which I’m, you know, I’m vegetarian. So I do eat eggs, though. And I’ve really just have this craving for eggs. So I’ve started having two eggs a day, which feels really good and healthy. And my nails are really strong so that’s good.

Nick Breedon 42:29
shiny hair.

Karena Keys 42:30
I’ve got shiny hair yep like from a panteen add.

Kiera Brew Kurec 42:36
Do you have breakfast before or after the gym?

Karena Keys 42:40
after definitly after

Nick Breedon 42:41
Yeah. no wants to eat at five o’clock.

Karena Keys 42:45
Well, I used to when I worked, when I started work at six when I worked in catering I would eat at 5am But that’s a different a different life. That was a life ago. So we My partner and I alternate drop offs as well. School drop offs, that means in parent world drop off and pick.

Nick Breedon 43:10
Do you do same same day as gym or alternating day from gym.

Karena Keys 43:14
Well usually when you go to the gym, you can it takes you a little bit longer to get ready. So the person who goes to the gym often does the drop off. And then the other person is kind of ready to leave the house at 7:30am. And then we go to work. So I quite enjoy my job at the moment. It’s really fun. People are nice. Here I am just you know, a little workplace wrap So yeah, so my job is at Tuggeranong Arts Center. I look after the visual art program there. So that’s, that’s, you know, working with artists, helping them put their shows together and Tuggeranong Art Center works with a lot of different community groups as well, which I really enjoy. So, you know, the work isn’t just in that kind of Contemporary Art realm it kind of delves into some more. Yeah, I guess. Yeah, just a little bit more based in other people’s reality. And if I do drop off, then I stay until five, or 5.30 and then Toni will pick up the boys and yeah, on the other day, I will leave a bit earlier to get the boys so it’s a big it’s a partnership really like things would be completely different without Toni it would be a lot a harder.

Nick Breedon 45:00
What a team!

Karena Keys 45:03
And yeah, we really, yeah, help each other, get through our work lives. The other thing, the other kind of typical thing is that nothing’s really typical. And you might think you might think that you have a plan, but then like, a kid gets sick, and you’re away from work and unable to do anything for a week. And then you get sick, because you’ve been looking after the sick kid and then that throws you out for another week or so. And so, yeah, planning for the fact that there that the plan will go wrong is kind of essential. And then in finding time for my, my own practice, is, you know, minimal time really. So weekend. And we’ve actually just been, we just bought a house, in Canberra, and we’ve been kind of renovating that a little bit. And so I haven’t really had a studio space for about a year now. So that’s been really hard. It’s been hard to yeah, just not have my stuff around me. To not have that space. Yeah. But that’s, yeah, that’s all about to change. And I’m actually at the moment sitting in the room, that will be my studio. And, and it’s kind of ready to ready to go which is exciting.

Kiera Brew Kurec 46:48
I was just about to ask, like, do you have a dedicated place in the house for your studio?

Karena Keys 46:54
Yeah, so I do, which is lucky. And I mean, it will double as a guest bedroom as well.

Kiera Brew Kurec 47:07
We have some friends whose baby’s nursery was like next to the drops saw (Laughter).

Nick Breedon 47:15
It wasn’t plugged in.

Kiera Brew Kurec 47:19
The baby look never slept in there was definitely a co sleeping situation. But the thought was there.

Karena Keys 47:29
Yeah, you’ve got to find space where you can. And I think, speaking to when I did my Master’s, I think I was speaking to a lecturer and I think it was, it was just before Phoenix was born, or just after and she was like, you’ve just got to, you know, your practice will change. You know, you might be making these big works now, big sculptural works, but your life situation changes the space that you have changes. And it’s important to think about how you can still say what you’re trying to say but with different, yeah, be flexible with how you do that, and different materials that you can use, because you might just be working from the kitchen table for time, or they might just have your laptop, or you might just, you know, have a sketchbook that’s how your practice can be flexible.

Kiera Brew Kurec 48:22
that’s really great advice for anyone, I think, because there’s times where anyone may have a studio or not have a studio or be kind of on the road, or whatever, and to learn ways to be articulate in your practice, so that you can be creating wherever you are. And be flexible with the materiality of your practice. So that you can be making work wherever you find yourself at different stages of your life, because it always changes and shifts

Karena Keys 48:56
after I had Jupiter. I didn’t have like my well, and even now, like my time is really broken up. And there’s not big stretches of time that I can kind of spend in the studio. So I started learning, animation and 3d animation and because it was something that you could I could easily pick up and you know, it didn’t rely on things drying it was it was just a clean way to kind of make something that was portable, and you could just pick it up and drop it when you needed to.

Nick Breedon 49:39
Did you find that being like becoming a parent kind of affected your sort of creativity or productivity in any particular way that you can identify?

Karena Keys 49:50
Yes, it really made me or well it patience, my patience has increased So that’s patients in like, my career goals, like, as an artist, like, you know, I don’t feel as rushed to get to whatever this idea of success might be at that time. Because, yeah, so I’ve gained a level of patience. But also, because I do have my studio times broken up and limited, it’s actually forced me to reflect on what I’m doing, as I’m making more than I ever used to, which is a real benefit to me. I think I used to kind of go to the studio and have a real flurry of activity, and maybe overwork things and not kind of consider what I was doing, which is fine sometimes, but not all the time, you kind of need to step back and reflect and think about what you’re doing and the decisions that you’re making. And being forced to have time between making has really helped strengthen the message, I guess, in my work, or, you know, yeah, because it’s not as busy. I’m not trying to do too much.

Nick Breedon 51:23
Yeah. Um, you spoke a little bit about your learning to 3d do 3d animation. I wonder if you could tell us about some of the resources that might have helped you to do this or any other resources that have kind of helped you out throughout your career?

Karena Keys 51:52
Yes. So YouTube helped my 3d animation goals, I was using this free 3d animation software called blender, which, is great. And yeah, so just online tutorials, were the only way that I could really learn how to do that.

Nick Breedon 52:19
I’ve certainly opened that program and been like arghhhhh! (Laughter)

Karena Keys 52:26
And it’s still an ongoing thing you know, I was doing really simple things, just animating still photographs and kind of toyed around with different trying to create my own models. But yeah, it’s a whole world. And it’s quite exciting. But yeah, YouTube. Yeah. And my partner, Toni is a very valuable resource. And being the partner of an artist is really hard. And she is very supportive and understands my needs, and sometimes is the person who forces me to have studio time, even when I make excuses not to. So yeah, she’s incredibly important. And at times, having a good psychologist has been really great.

Nick Breedon 53:26
yeah, absolutely.

Karena Keys 53:30
Yeah, just helping me a lot with all sorts of life things. So yeah.

Nick Breedon 53:40
Well, yeah. Good to counter that challenge as we said earlier or that little voice.

Karena Keys 53:50
I am starting to sound a bit like it’s like psycopath. (Laughter)

Nick Breedon 53:56
I can’t even tell you how much I’m like relating. I’m just like, yeah, you’re lucky I didn’t get my very aggressive. My very aggressive humming in agreements, in the background of this one.

Kiera Brew Kurec 54:11
Nick has been nodding along furiously, with everything that you’re saying.

Nick Breedon 54:15
I definitely relate!

Kiera Brew Kurec 54:19
Yeah. That I mean, what a good trio of resources YouTube, an amazing partner and a good psychologists.

Nick Breedon 54:27
That’s all you need.

Karena Keys 54:29
Yeah, yeah. That’s all you need. Oh, and Toni’s parents are amazing. They take they help with the kids a lot. So having that support is incredibly important as well. We actually positioned ourselves to live across the road from Toni’s parent. Which sounds really kind of crazy to people without kids, but every one with kids goes oh that’s great!

Kiera Brew Kurec 55:02
So great Karena if you could turn back time Is there anything you would tell? Small Karena, young Karena about, any advice? Or any insights that you’d like to share?

Karena Keys 55:14
Oh, small Karena, I would I would tell small Karena to just don’t be afraid to fail. And I would tell small Karena to talk to her GP about a mental health plan.

Kiera Brew Kurec 55:34
Such good advice.

Nick Breedon 55:36
Good advice.

Karena Keys 55:37
No I would tell small Karena to find better friends. I don’t know. Yeah. And, and not to be scared to ask questions.

Kiera Brew Kurec 55:53
Oh, my gosh, I didn’t ask any questions when I was young.

Nick Breedon 55:56
but I was too busy faking it till I made it.

Karena Keys 55:58

Kiera Brew Kurec 56:00
I was also terrified of asking questions. I just didn’t think I had a voice. And if I was asking a question that that was wrong, like I missed something. I looked back at primary school reports and it actually says Kiera never asks questions. Yeah, I was terrified. I was terrified and having a voice and putting myself out there. And its heartbreaking

Nick Breedon 56:22
Don’t draw any attention to yourself.

Karena Keys 56:27
I really just flew under the radar, just not not wanting to create any kind of waves or just being, you know, achieving enough to not have people ask questions, but not kind of achieving too much to make people look.

Nick Breedon 56:47
Yeah, I wonder. The interesting part of or the flipside of this question is like, you know, if you could reach back through time, it’s like, you know, what do you think you would want to hear from your future self now?

Kiera Brew Kurec 57:02
Well, you kind of actually said, things that your sister’s friend actually said to you.

Nick Breedon 57:08
Oh, my God, maybe she was you (Laughter).

Kiera Brew Kurec 57:14
Is your sister friends with her.

Karena Keys 57:17
I think their Facebook friends, and actually, I actually ran in to her. So just after I graduated from art school, the painting department organized this painting exhibition down at VCA. And so I had some work there. And we were there at the opening and just as I was leaving, I heard this person call out Karena, Karena! and I turn around and it was her it was Jo! It was actually really lovely because you know, without her like I would not have been there like really thinking about it.

Kiera Brew Kurec 57:57
This is pulling at my heartstrings to much.

Karena Keys 58:03
But I haven’t spoken to her or seen her since then.

Nick Breedon 58:08
That’s so lovely. Like, did she come along? Like did she kind of seek you out?

Karena Keys 58:13
No, she’s was studying acting or something. She’s an actress.

Nick Breedon 58:19

Kiera Brew Kurec 58:21

Karena Keys 58:22
So she just happened to be there.

Nick Breedon 58:27
Comes full circle.

Kiera Brew Kurec 58:31
That’s a lovely place to leave it.

Nick Breedon 58:33
Yeah. Thanks so much for joining us via phone today in the studio. Karena Thanks.

Karena Keys 58:41
Thank you. I hope it hasn’t. I feel like I’ve kind of taken this opportunity to have like a free therapy session.

Nick Breedon 58:48
Oh no! Thank you so much for sharing, that it’s really valuable.

This episode is recorded on the sovereign Land of the Kulin nation, we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land the Wurundjeri people and pay respects to elder’s past, present and emerging.

Kiera Brew Kurec 59:08
Thanks for listening to Pro Prac. You can listen to other episodes and subscribe to us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. You can stay up to date with what we’re up to on Instagram at @propracpodcast, or send us an email at