Carmen Copestake: upbeat art in tough times

Last month, we announced plans to hold an Open Studios event towards the end this month. The idea was to give the Marina’s artists and craftspeople an opportunity to invite visitors into their homes to show and possibly sell their work. Rather like our Open Gardens initiative.

While many creatives welcomed the idea, we decided to cancel the initiative out of respect for the fact that more people expressed concern about having strangers in their homes. Understandable, perhaps.

But when one door closes, as they say, another one opens. And one of the doors that will be opening to visitors later this year belongs to Carmen Copestake, one of our community’s brightest creative talents. Joining artistic forces with other creatives in her circle, she plans to hold a group exhibition in her garage on Eastlake Island. Dates and times are still TBC, but visitors are certainly in for a treat.

Originally from Joburg, Carmen started out as an actress before working as a teacher for many years. She started getting into art seriously after moving to Knysna and has continued to draw, paint and sculpt since moving to the Marina five years ago. Starting with watercolours, she has since other painting mediums, life drawing and sculpture – all to brilliant effect.

Carmen is quick to pay tribute to the teachers she has learned from down the years. Among others, she makes special mention of painter Sue Kemp, as well as painter, Leon Vermeulen, ceramic artist, Chris Smart, and her current teacher, Paul Birchall, all of them well worth a Google. Her work also reflects a wide cross-section of inspirations, from Gaugin and Henry Moore to van Gogh and Picasso, ‘who is everywhere,’ she comments, adding “Picasso said something to the effect that any artist who doesn’t steal from other artists is a fool.”

Of course, the quality defines a true artist is an ability to internalise (perhaps steal) external influences then synthesise them into something unique. Seeing Carmen’s work first-hand makes it clear that she has this elusive quality in abundance and the work it produces is the result of raw, pure talent.

The upbeat ebullience of pieces such as Vuka! and Vuvuzela Man along with her sculpture of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu make a great antidote to our turbulent times. Little wonder that Vuka! Made such an impact when it went on show as part of the Zeitz MOCCA’s memorable Home Is Where The Art Is exhibition. A pair of bronzes inspired by her grand-daughters, Ella and Lucy, are rather more serene yet equally beautiful.

Ditto Carmen’s paintings –executed in watercolour, pastel and oils. And then there is the hidden trove of perfectly executed speed sketches that she stores in a magnificent antique chest. As Carmen explains, these are the product of the life drawing classes at Kalk Bay’s community centre, which she attends every week – without fail.

Carmen’s naturally lit home and its perfectly maintained garden provide the perfect setting to show off her distinctively quirky art. If you would like chat to her about her work and see it first-hand, feel free to contact her on 083 326 3311 or

We look forward to bringing you details of her planned exhibition later this year. For now, let’s leave the photos do the talking!

Photos: Patrick McKenna