Carmen Ky

Australian Artist


Catalogue: QUIET CONNECTIONS, Orange Regional Gallery Exhibition 2012

Three artists engaged with the poetics and spirit of place

More and more it seems that with the rapid change of pace in our cities, their complex development and spreading borders, means the natural environment is increasingly marginalised. We tend to over emphasise the fact that we live in a globalised world where the internet is commonplace as a platform for social networking, for instant entertainment and as a conveyer of news. Aside from the banal, this is invariably focused on natural disasters and man’s inhumanity, greed, and appetite for destruction. We have become subsumed by what Paul Virilio called the 'speed’ of technological society so that the need to take stock in a slow and measured way and evaluate a troubling world and our own situation within it is too often bypassed. It has also meant that our spiritual connections to land, those that Aboriginal peoples know so well, can be overlooked - to the profound disadvantage of our species.

Some twenty years ago, Suzi Gablik felt compelled to write the book 'The Re-Enchantment of Art' (1991) from an eco-feminist position and one that was concerned with the ‘ethics of care’. It pitted a new "connective aesthetics" against what she termed "deconstruction and despair." Art should heal, she argued. Her arguments are still valid today as more and more 'urbanist’ artists and those in regional and remote communities are consciously turning to a movement one could call slow and mediative art, which involves the hand-made, collaborative work with others and an acute awareness of moral and spiritual issues. It is an art of resistance against an over reliance on instant gratification and overt consumerism. Instead, it is a movement that is low key and open to intuition and soulfulness as being integral to art making. Importantly, it is one that is mindful of specific landscapes and particular environments with their indigenous fauna and flora, textures and light, their sound scapes; all feeding into the rich range of sensations such places emote in the course of a day.

In Australia, a cursory look at recent journal articles and exhibition catalogues shows a growing momentum in this attention to environmental concerns and social responsibility. For instance, in his editorial to Artlink's issue on 'Handmade: the new labour’ (Vol.25, no.1, 2005), Kevin Murray wrote that the creative potential of the handmade was gaining traction as digital technology was becoming absorbed into everyday life and that the 1990s techno-fetish in much design was being replaced by the earthy textures of clay and other natural materials. Earlier, in 1996, Nevill Drury and Anna Voigt co-wrote the Craftsman House book 'Fire and Shadow: Spirituality in Contemporary Art’, covering Aboriginal 'dreaming’, an acknowledgement of Gaia and work that has been inspired in this country by Buddhism. Two years ago, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, held an exhibition titled ëIn the Balance: Art for a Changing World' (21 Aug. – 31 Oct. 2010) which represented Australian and International artists whose work responded to ecological concerns. Hence it is timely that with `Quiet Connections’ three women artists have come together, from rural contexts, whose bodies of work have been prompted by their close association with the land. Each in their own distinctive ways, pay homage to it, showing what it means to connect intimately with place and in turn reveal how specific mediums, used with professional dexterity, can indeed impart a sense of renewed wonder in our world.

Ros Auld is a ceramic artist from Borenore in the Central Tablelands, Carmen Ky is a painter and printmaker from Mystery Bay on the South East Coast while Tracy Luff works as a sculptor and assemblage artist from her base in Goulburn. Collectively, they embody cultural diversity and a wealth of experience from which to draw inspiration when approaching the natural environment as source material. Auld has collaborated with John Olsen, one of Australia's most senior landscape painters, Ky has collaborated with Aboriginal and Indian artists while Luff creates highly textured forms that recall her Chinese Malaysian heritage as much as her life in regional Australia. All of them display an obvious sensitivity towards the country that hosts us, the way the land is shaped, its colours, textures, rhythms and underlying energy. They are attuned to the way a specific landscape changes with the seasons and through unforeseen weather patterns or geological disturbances. Living, as they each do in non-urban situations, these women acknowledge a common response to dwelling in nature, rather than perceiving it as an external realm. Firstly, there is the sense of space in their environments and the need to be self-reliant, daunting prospects for those who may crave the companionship of a crowd, built environment and endless spectacle. Instead, there is peace and tranquillity that allows for uninterrupted concentration. Within this reflective environment, each artist responds through their particular sensibility to this ancient land, one that is part of the Asia-Pacific region, a continent that requires respect and care.

Importantly, for this project, they have augmented their respective exhibits with 'Mystery Bay Triptychs’, large-scale works on paper utilising watercolour, linocut and collograph. Collaborating together, the artists have arrived at highly spontaneous abstractions through mark-making that sweeps rhythmically across several sheets. Here, the usually pristine coastal environment of Mystery Bay has been interpreted with freedom and verve, as though reigniting the drama of its ecologically volatile past when lava flow rock forms were tossed around by tsunamis.

by Anne Kirker (Dr. Anne Kirker is a freelance curator and writer based in Brisbane)

Carmen Ky: Painter and Printmaker from Mystery Bay on the South East Coast

Primarily a painter and printmaker, Carmen Ky is also known for her photography in books and has collaborated with Aboriginal and Indian artists.

“My work charts the physical and metaphysical planes of the landscape. It celebrates the natural environment, human consciousness and the elemental energies that form and dissolve our world. Whether I'm using oil paint with encaustic or acrylic and ink, my painting (and printmaking) is often informed by Asian art, the wild coastal environment I live in and the desert journeys I take where it is impossible to ignore references to Aboriginal spiritual connection to land. Open space, clear light and land that has a shimmering presence characterises desert but these qualities are also intrinsic to experiencing ocean.

I usually start my work with a large Chinese calligraphy brush for making the first mark on a fresh white canvas: it starts the relationship between image and canvas support. In this initial recording of an idea there is a quiet connection being established, one that unites pristine space, mind, eye and hand. Each painting grows layer over layer taking on its own organic process as the surface texture changes and often the meaning evolves in tune with the action of the medium. Nevertheless, I am always conscious that under all that paint is the dynamic energy of the initial mark. It is key to the final outcome and often its presence is felt as a rhythm, a direction or shape contained within the finished work. My art is the result of ideas distilled through experience, contemplation, perseverance and practise. It is about exploring consciousness, the elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space), and forces of energy. I am drawn to live and work in places of natural beauty and elemental intensity, because here contemplative states naturally arise.

Referencing desert and water feels important at this point in time. Landscape can be metaphorical, as place can equate with state of mind, with spiritual awakening and with profound peace. As a Buddhist and also someone who practiced professional acupuncture, I am aware of mind and body consciousness. I study Asian art, including tantric, and this filters into my work. Journeys into the desert are always significant for me. The silence, space and climatic intensity induce an alignment between random thoughts, dreams and the sense of being in a place sacred to the Aborigine while being mindful of the need to physically survive. Heat seems to melt these boundaries creating a sense of interconnectedness as blood throbs through my veins and the landscape pulses in a sublime heat haze; internal and external worlds are harmonised and there is clarity of vision.”

Carmen Ky: ArtistAs statement for ‘Quiet Connections’

Catalogue: Alchemic Wilderness: A Survey 1988-2001 Lake Mungo, Desert and Kakadu

This celebratory exhibition of Carmen Ky's prints and paintings represents the culmination of 30 years of art practice. Alchemic Wilderness reveals Ky's advanced technical accomplishment as she explores the colours, textures and effects on her psyche of three beautiful wild places to which she has made repeated journeys: Kakadu in the far tropical north, the central desert where she visited many sacred Aboriginal places and Lake Mungo in south western New South Wales, the remarkable dry lunette landscape which holds the earliest fossil remains of Australian people.

In describing her responses to these places as ‛alchemic’, Ky is primarily referring to a change in state. For Carmen Ky, the fundamentals of physical reality alter when she meditates and paints in such places. She uses the term wilderness not just in the abstract sense as a place "where man never ventured" but also as it refers to landscape of great beauty, solitude and, in Ky's case, spiritual presence. The term also refers to the changes that occur at different times of the day – changes in light from sun to moonlight, from night to the 'pickininni dawn’, or the half glow of dusk when colours reverse, some dropping from vision altogether- altering perceptions and thus inducing altered states. In many cultures this is a time when spirits are wandering such as the Mokuy of Arnhem Land. This time heralds a shift and change in nature in humans and animals – towards sleep, the subconscious, when creative forces can work within the psyche – when the Dreaming state is apparent.

Early Years

After a quiet semi-rural childhood in NSW Carmen Ky traveled to Sydney to study painting at The National Art School. It was the heady sixties, when a plethora of different styles was hitting the art world. Ky’s contemporaries who became synonymous with the abstractionist movement of the era included teacher John Coburn, artists Ken Reinhard, Colin Lanceley and Michael Johnson and fellow student – John Firth Smith. The prevailing ethos was one of intense color, layering of geometric shapes and hard edge symbolism. Ky was considered the equal of many of the best. Upon completion of her diploma in 1968 she was invited to exhibit at Max Hutchinson's prestigious Gallery A in Sydney. Her paintings, jazzy combos of eclectic style, produced a review from James Gleeson which referred to her as an expressionist and talk of her youthful "exuberant energy in the handling which needs harnessing to a more powerful purpose” .1 Donald Brook spoke of her "abstract landscapes" and "intuitive translation".2 Her introspective nature was already apparent and in the biographical artist's notes for this exhibition Ky states she is exploring "the searching into consciousness”.

Esoteric Influences

While at art school, Ky began reading the works of William Blake and discovered the eastern philosophies, particularly Taoist. For a lengthy period she became deeply immersed in yoga. This background is central to her preoccupations with landscape, meditative states and esoteric experiences.

In 1974 she held an important solo exhibition at the Bonython Gallery, Sydney. The subjects were air brushed ethereal mandalas or “cellular structures”. At this time close up images of cells with nuclei, common in medical literature began to be published in glossy magazines. Photographic lenses had advanced to the point where miraculous images could be seen for the first time by the human eye. These structures coincided perfectly with the eastern concept of mandalas. Essentially circles or discs (cf sun or moon) and sometimes referred to as a vortex of energy, they provide a centre or focus of light out of which all patterns and forms emerge and all patterns and forms return. The Tibetans, who are masters of the art of meditation, say that mandalas act as "liberators of the sight”. They are a means of meditation directly related to the eyes. Their appearance in Ky's early work reveals the fundamental basis on which she was to build her creative life.

While the Bonython exhibition was a turning point for Ky, it was little understood. W.E.Pidgeon3 referred to an "other worldly scene”, “the navel of the Universe” and “John Coburn all Tibetan”. The show marked the close of the first phase of Ky's public art practice - as though she was signaling her own internal retreat into domestic wilderness, a period in which she married, had children, built two houses and found creative stimulation in acupuncture studies and healing. For part of this time Ky lived in the bush on the Hawkesbury River and her art practice, like that of so many other significant women artists, became a quiet side bar to family and nurturing children.

The late ’70s and early ’80s saw Ky immersed in pursuit of the transforming effects of light in landscape photography. The magical effects of light in the landscape produced numerous beautiful photographs particularly of forest areas in rural NSW, the Hawkesbury river and Scotland Island NSW. Incandescent light has always affected her strongly and continues to play a role in her painting and printmaking.

Return to Art Making

From 1985, Carmen Ky acted as stills photographer on a number of documentaries. The catalyst for her return to spiritually expressive painting and print making was a journey she took in 1985 to the Himalayas documenting a ballooning expedition. She recalls camping near an ancient monastery at night when snow and sky were gleaming as one silver mass in the moonlight. Awoken by the extraordinary echoing sounds of Tibetan conch shells, she listened until dawn then joined the monks in meditation over succeeding days. Ky has had many privileged experiences in beautiful wild places and these inform the work she now makes as a visual expression of the states she has entered in the process.

Kakadu and the Desert

In the late ’80s Ky was also increasingly drawn to Aboriginal philosophy introduced through her friend Burnum Burnam and other key elders. The western Arnhem Land elder Bill Neidjie befriended her while she was taking stills for the film, Kakadu in 1988. On such journeys, Ky draws with brush and pencils. 'Nourlangie – Kakadu’ and 'Nourlangie Outcrop’ date from this trip.

Ky's work on another film, Beyond the Dreamtime (1990), allowed her access to important Aboriginal sacred places accompanied by the traditional owners. The film concerned itself with Ainslie Roberts, an artist who had a popular impact through his personal surrealist imagery illustrating desert myths recorded by the anthropologist C.P. Mountford. Visiting several charged sacred places, Ky's highly developed susceptibility produced deep trance experiences from which several significant visual works emerged.

Carmen Ky was the film's ‛official artist’, free to experience, move about in nature and respond visually. Upon arrival she recalls she was smitten by a gigantic headache.

"I couldn't lift my head, it was dusk and we went into the gorge where the huge rock pillar stands near its waterhole with the high protective rock wall in a semi circle beyond it. We went into the gorge and things started happening. It was like living in a different realm. Ada (Ada Andy Napaljari, the traditional owner) pointed out a 'window' to me – a place where only women could enter".

Ky explored the gorge alone – she saw an owl guardian appearing and over successive days felt disembodied, suspended, flying. 'Journey to Pulka Kerrinyarra' 1992-1999 records that event. The main body of the work, the lower panels, were once big detailed drawings. Ky reworked these years later and added a narrative along the top – the story of the journey. An image of the rock sentinel is followed by the symbolic appearance of Napaljari, the custodian. The primary waterhole and other waterhole's retreat within the gorge. Finally the owl and the separation of physical and spiritual. Over time Ky has refined this painting with a red over-wax, leaving some experiences buried in the textural surface.

The works in this exhibition reveal Ky’s responses to natural places which are remarkably different. The prints and paintings exhibit geological changes and sometimes alter severely in style and execution. In this we see Ky's many artistic persona, changing, responding and giving form to various lights,states, spirits and thoughts. Aboriginal artists are masters of this process too – Emily Kngwarreye and Michael Nelson Jagamara come to mind. Both these artists responded to the patterns of colour of each season, radically shifting their art styles to communicate to outsiders.

Lake Mungo

Carmen Ky first visited the Willandra Lakes area with Burnum Burnum in 1992 at a time when the skeletal remains of "Mungo woman" were to be handed back to Aboriginal people. Awed by the ceremony and the significance of the exposure/interment of the bones Ky was moved to create many works (e.g.'Fossil Stream') and to re-visit the area. She had become gripped by the landscape, the endless plain of sandy soil "dotted with calligraphy of saltbush and bluebush”, the flatness and the silence. The color pencil drawing 'Lake Mungo' 1994, records that amazing lunette of fossilized sand dunes known as the Wall of China subtly changing color and revealing layers of yellow, pinks and greys. Ky recounts that as she walked gently over the crusty surface of dry lake beds and sand dunes she sensed and saw fossils everywhere – subsequent paintings and works on paper concerned ceremony, ritual and identity within the land. The erosion of hard sand at Lake Mungo has uncovered a vast burial ground – the most ancient of human remains on the continent. The bones determinedly appear and reappear with the shifting sands and their immanence became a feature of her paintings in which shapes that conjure figures, float towards the eye on the frontal plain, like clouds.


Ky’s dexterity with various media is obvious. She has taught printmaking over 15 years and enjoys pushing the process to the limit – allowing acid to eat right through plates, creating new work from old, building richly sensuous textured surfaces. Laminated layers of fine Japanese and Chinese paper and tissues are laid down and combined with amorphous torn paper shapes, some symbolic of the bones.

On her journeys Ky sketches constantly.

"Drawing is the primal mark. I always start with drawing – the first mark on a fresh page, canvas or etching plate starts the relationship changes the space. It is the initial recording of an idea.” 

Many works commence with a watery ink loaded on a Chinese calligraphy brush with Ky attempting in a few lines to capture what she calls the dynamic energy of the land. It does not rest there however as she adds layer after layer, defining shapes, bringing color and rhythm and perhaps most characteristically adding texture, buildingup the surface from acrylic to oil and wax.

“I change direction, follow the rhythm, building texture, experimenting and combining mediums. I enjoy building up, scraping back, glazing, burning in the wax.

In this way Ky enters into the organic process of creating an artwork, allowing it to take over.

Virtual space, visions or nerve-storms

The concentric and spiral circles evident in much of Ky's work including the collagraph ‘Virtual Space' 2000, have Aboriginal associations, but for Ky are again a fundamental reference to cellular structure or impressions of her mind (the primordial mandala). Ky is constantly altering and moving each work through its different passages or states. At times, of course, the works go on their own journey when they are sold and there they rest. Left to Ky's devices they might well metamorphose into something else entirely.

A more prosaic approach might explain at least some of Carmen Ky’s work as simply expressing aspects of vision, eye/brain neural phenomena - the images and colors we see with our eyes closed. Headaches producing color and light as visual hallucinations were called "nerve-storms" from the 19th century. A headache, probably migrainous, certainly preceded the visionary state Ky entered on her visit to Pulka Kerrinyarra Gorge in the central desert. The visual phenomena described by mystics over the centuries have also been described in medical texts. Edward Living (1873)4 quoted his patient describing his 'nerve-storm' thus: "…sparks or bright beads in incessant motion like the effects produced by the rapid gyrations of the lesser water beetles as I have seen them in patches on rivers and ponds in the bright sunshine”. Such a description also resonates with Ky's 'Billabong', 'Shifting Sands' 2000, and 'Ancient Tracks' 2000, all of which appear to imitate such surface movements of water. This may not be coincidental.

Sometimes Ky’s foreground shapes as seen in 'Desert Dissolves Into Sky', 'Desert and the Hole in the Sky' or 'Desert Greets the Sun' operate like defects in the field of vision or scotomata. They float across the field of vision and can leave blank spots behind. Although they momentarily distract, they allow us to enter into the painting behind, into deep space. Ky has remarked of 'Flying Home' 2000 (cover), "the floating linear shapes are reminiscent of clouds or floating spirits forms – enhancing a sense of dimension." Ky is not concerned that the viewer engage with the metaphysics of her paintings, indeed she says "the painting could just as easily be about the internal flow of blood pulsating through the veins as a landscape viewed from the air.

Over the last 15 years Carmen Ky has found the alchemic properties of solitude and wilderness fertile inspiration for a large body of work culminating in this major survey exhibition. In the years since critics first perceived her singular intuitive eye she has exhibited in numerous contexts and quietly won awards for her exceptional printmaking. Now she has decided to reveal herself fully as an artist with a long and serious involvement with the spirit of place and a passion for paint, ink and texture. Whether she is mentally suspended above the desert seeing a sinuous serpentine form lift out like a transparent line above the hot red eroded landscape or contemplating the torn paper shapes of her studio debris form themselves into powerful new works resonant with personal, archaeological and archetypal meaning, Carmen Ky's distinctive aura is now visible amongst the best of her peers.

by Jennifer Isaacs


  1. The Sun, 18 December 1968
  2. Sydney Morning Herald, December 1968
  3. Sunday Telegraph 18 August 1974
  4. Living, E. On Megrim, Sick - Headache, and Some Allied Disorders: A Contributionto the Pathology of Nerve-Storms. London. 1873.


Lee Carmody for conceptual interpretation of Ky’s symbols, and Dr David Isaacs for insights into ‘nerve-storms’. Quotations are from interviews with the artist January-June 2001.

Alchemic Wilderness: a survey 1988-2001 Manly Art Gallery and Museum

Review By George Barker

Being a resolutely urban soul it was definitely the alchemical half of the title that appealed to me when Carmen Ky asked if I would review her retrospective exhibition, Alchemical Wilderness. Having clocked up many hours in the studio, and few in the wilderness, I can relate easily to the magical atmosphere of the former – if not the latter.

One can easily picture the printmaking process, in its manifold forms, as an alchemical process. Aside from various chemical processes it involves artists in a constant working and re-working of surfaces in an effort to bring forth something sublime from often base materials. There is a sense that the resulting images are not so much an unmediated statement of feeling and emotions, as occurs in the act of drawing, but something transmuted and distilled by the artist through a series of engagements with the materials at hand. In this sense, collagraphs - images brought forth from a collage matrix of textures and materials may be thought of as a deeply magical and alchemic approach to image making.

As a printmaker of many years standing Carmen Ky is particularly accomplished in this method with its underlying principles of layering, shifting, metaphor and transmutation. Her exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum manages to fuse process and content, alchemic and wilderness, in a coherent body of works taken from the past twelve years.

Based directly upon her experiences in Lake Mungo, Kakadu and the Desert, the underlying visual structure of the works in this exhibition, whether they be paintings or prints, is one of ethereal linearity contrasted with solid vibrant forms. Their physical structure - canvas, paper, drawing and printing inks, gold (leaf) and wax provides a consistency of approach and meaning across the varied works; with wax, that most ancient and purest of substances, functioning as the key element which literally binds them together.

Ky sees the transition from one state to another as a shift of consciousness, and speaks of the changing light over a 24 hour cycle in these regions as altering one's perceptions and hence spiritual state. In experiencing the show I was struck with the manner in which prolonged acquaintance carries the viewer effortlessly from the public scale of the large Flying paintings to the intimacy of collagraph prints such as Spirit Country and Crossing Over. It is in prints such as these that the contradictory terms of the show's title merge to form a visual and literal unity.

Desert Wind, a collagraph print from 1999, with its strident colours and bold striations lending a sense of harsh hot storms, effortlessly evokes a sense of wilderness. Formal bands of colour suggest this as an eternal landscape; anchored safely against the swirling chaotic movements of the winds playing over it. Spiral shapes – a spiritual archetype in many cultures, including that of the Aboriginal custodians of this land - are scattered over the surface. These spirals bring to mind nothing so much as a series of tumbleweeds moved by the wind, while simultaneously demonstrating its force and direction. With its underlying (and overlaying) details there is much more going on here than just a desert landscape.

Evidencing a sustained approach to her subject are two further prints; Ancient Tracks, 1998 and Ancient Tracks: Veins of Gold, produced 24 months later. These paired works reveal a similar visual dichotomy to that of Desert Wind. Darkened surfaces with myriad brightly coloured markings suggest the literal tracks of the title, whilst doubling as the walls of a virtual cave – decorated over the passing years with successive layers of personal symbols.

Emerging from the gallery to a bright sunny day on the Manly Promenade provided a shift of consciousness of its own. Wilderness? What wilderness?

by George Barker

2000: From Catalogue "Celebrating Paradise: the artist and the Northern Beaches: 1800 to 2000"

During a conversation with artist Carmen Ky, whilst researching the project, we discovered that Scotland Island at one point was the home to five etching presses. This is very unusual given the difficulty in setting up printmaking studios. This island is a haven for artists, able to live reasonably cheaply in beautiful and isolated surroundings. These sorts of stories and information about the artist's lives and activities in the area will be collected through oral history projects and programmed talks held at the Gallery in January 2000 and beyond.

Carmen Ky, who has been a resident of Scotland Island for the past twenty years, is another artist who articulates the strong sense of place and her connection with Pittwater, in particular. Her work, Virtual Space – Pittwater, 1999(collection of the artist) refers to the elemental spaces of Pittwater – spiritual, mental and physical.

I love the elemental intensity and beauty of island life – crossing the water in all conditions, watching the moon or light reflections on water, feeling the wind, rain and sun. I value the sense of spaciousness that being on water provides... The inherent energies and rhythms of this area induce timelessness, evoking the spiritual essence and reinforcing a sense of interconnectedness.

Carmen Ky’s painting, prints and drawings, as with the work of Helen Lempriere (1907 - 1991) are not necessarily about 'this place'. Often they are about journeys whether it be the Barrier Reef or the Central Desert. Yet the role of the Pittwater environment as a place for rejuvenation is important.

"Each time I return, I settle into that timeless power and natural beauty that helps define a stillness within and a vitality that is in turn translated into my work”.

Artists in the Field : A Retrospective Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

There were two camps held in 1990. The first was intended as an all women camp but when one was unable to participate David van Nunen was invited, together with Sandra Leveson, Carmen Ky and Ingrid Johnstone, all from Sydney.
In one form or another these artists are expressionists, in the sense that their renditions of the natural surroundings were screened through the physical or philosophical impact of the ‘field’ environment.
This was very different from Alasdair McGregor and Jack Meagher who ‘went bush’ for the MAGNT later in the year. These artists were unapologetically realists, whether painting edifices or paper barks, or photographing Top End ‘characters’ by the pool at Cooinda.

Carmen Ky developed a friendship with Big Bill Neidjie before her 1990 camp, during the filming of Kakadu Man for Film Australia. She stayed with him from time to time and began to change her ways of seeing under the influence of Neidjie’s spirituality. Her perceptions of what she terms ‘the energy structures of nature’ were being informed by Neidjie’s stories. She also immersed herself in Aboriginal culture in museums in her photography research for a book on Burnum Burnum . The fine detail on drawings such as Guardians – Twin Falls and Nourlangie outcrop bear the weight of this new vision, but also reflect Ky’s interest in observing, as a rock platform once underwater, the weathered escarpment with its tropical life forms. Museum and Art gallery of the Northern Territory.

About Carmen Ky

Australian Artist, Photographer and Printmaker. In the 1960's and 1970's Carmen Ky exhibited under her birth name of Carmen Houliston.

‘What I truly love is the spiritual shift that occurs in wilderness, that sense of space and timelessness … also having concentrated time in the studio when the work flow is stabilized and all else disappears.’

Carmen Ky held her first exhibition in 1968 and since then has exhibited in solo and group shows and curated exhibitions in Australia, Chile, China and Sweden. Her award-winning paintings and prints are represented in public, private and corporate collections in Australia and overseas. She has also worked as a stills photographer on documentary films and books.

Carmen uses a variety of painting mediums and printmaking processes. Her work is informed by the transformational quality of light, space, energy and the elements. It is a discipline for exploring the realms of the mind. A celebration of the natural environment, human consciousness and spiritual understanding, it reflects a sense of interconnectedness. It’s a balance of analytical and intuitive practices and affirms a deep empathy for the genius loci of the Australian landscape.

‘Journeys into the desert are always significant for me. They are about shedding the unnecessary and settling into silence and space. An equanimity occurs, a gentle co-existence of thoughts, dreams, spirit and physical survival …a dimensional alignment. The climatic intensity, ambient heat and primordial vastness draw me back again and again.

‘Heat melts the boundaries of consciousness. It’s the fire of transformation, creating a sense of interconnectedness. As blood throbs through my veins and the landscape pulses in a sublime heat haze, internal and external worlds are harmonized and there’s a clarity of vision.’

Carmen pursues a continuing interest in, and is influenced by: Tibetan Buddhism, medicine and culture; Aboriginal culture; Acupuncture and Chinese medicine; Taoist art; Tantric art; primitive art; esoteric texts; Asian art, travel and music.

Influences in her early years were Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, William Turner, John Olsen, Ian Fairweather, Fred Williams, Paul Cezanne, Jean Miro, Antonio Tapies and Wassily Kandinsky.

This site displays works that have resulted from internal journeys, journeys into the wilderness and long days in the studio. Each page and gallery represents a visual discipline and medium.

… enjoy the journey …