Karen Klassen Tells Fairy Tales on Calgary’s Bridges
Klassen’s artwork can be seen on seven city bridges until the end of this year.
Banners from left to right: “Ashputtel,” “Briar Rose,” “Iron Hans,” “Jorinda & Jorindel,” “Snowdrop,” and “The Golden Bird.”
Artwork by Karen Klassen
Almost two years ago, Karen Klassen found out she had won the bid for this year’s Bridge Banner Project. While Klassen is already a prominent Calgary artist having created artwork in a variety of mediums for gallery shows, advertising campaigns and magazines, now Calgarians need only head to one of the seven major bridges leading into downtown to see her work.
The stories that the banners tell
Every artist selected to create artwork for the Centre City Banner Program tells different stories. Wil Yee, whose work was previously on the bridges, created art that portrayed First Nations myths. Klassen’s work was inspired by six Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.
“I’ve been working with these fairy tales for a while now,” says Klassen. “I find them creatively fertile and I’ve worked on a few projects that draw inspiration from Grimm’s fairy tales.”
Klassen adds that she is intrigued by the problems the stories present, the underlying darkness of them, and the variety. Each banner tells the story of one fairy tale, highlighting moments of discovery that alter the protagonist’s course of life.
Mostly, Klassen is proud to have been involved in a public art project. She also hopes that her banners are eye-catching and able to engage Calgarians. “I hope they wonder what’s going on in the banners, even if they don’t know that they are Grimm’s fairy tales,” says Klassen. “I hope they are curious about the story being told.”
The significance of colour
Each one of Klassen’s stories has one main colour. “Ashputtel” is primarily pink, while “Briar Rose” is largely orange. Klassen says that sometimes the colour was given to her as a clue in the text, but otherwise she selected a colour based on her artistic intuition.
“Selecting a colour is just a feeling,” says Klassen. “For example, Snow White [“Snowdrop”] needed to be red. “The Golden Bird” took place in the countryside, so I chose to pick green as the primary colour.”
While each story has a different colour representing it, Klassen selected six vivid colours that would brighten the bridges, especially in the drab winter months.
Klassen on creating banner art
To create the banner art, Klassen combined painting and digital elements. “I started off by painting and then finished each picture digitally,” says Klassen. “I’d say the banners were 50 per cent painting and 50 per cent digital.” Finishing all six banners took Klassen several weeks.
What’s next for Klassen
Currently, Klassen is working on illustrating some children’s books, a portrait project and some personal painting. She is also open to getting involved in public art projects again.
“This public art project is important to Calgary, but really, they all are,” says Klassen. “This is one of many public art projects in Calgary, so it is part of a larger public art network.”
See Klassen’s artwork on the 14th Street, Louise, Centre Street, Langevin, Inglewood, MacDonald and Zoo bridges.