BY BILLY SUTER
WHAT do colourful flora and fauna – and, for that matter, John Lennon and Yoko Ono – have in common with Karen Dennyschene, who, with husband Tony, is a manager and selling agent at the Dormehl and Phalane Group’s Umhlanga branch?
The answer is that Karen – a member of the property group since 2016; involved with Tony in real estate for more than 15 years, specialising in the Umhlanga area – is a popular and talented artist with a penchant for painting flora, fauna and other commissioned works.
She and Tony also have a passion for flipping homes…or, as Karen puts it, “ “buying ugly ducklings to renovate and sell”.
Cape Town-born Karen’s skill with a paintbrush started when she was very young.
“I was always drawing as a child and did art at school. I studied graphic design and am a self-taught fine artist, but attended many courses and classes over the year,” she explains.
Her talents grew considerably over the years and she is now regularly approached to paint commissioned works – among them a graffiti-styled, life-size portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
“It was a large-scale painting that I particularly enjoyed doing. It measured 2m x 1.6m, and was commissioned for a new home,” she says, pointing out that the first work she sold was to a small interior decorating shop.
“It was a small painting of a Koi fish. I was so thrilled and encouraged.”
Karen’s first art commission was for a series of wildlife paintings for a corporate client. She smiles and adds: “I remember having shattered nerves, but it all worked out well in the end”.
She has created many paintings since: “Must be hundreds! Most of my work is commissioned by interior decorators or the galleries where I exhibit. My paintings have found their way to Australia, UK, America and I recently sent a painting to Austria.”
Karen was also one of three South African artists selected to train in Slovenia for the Golden Artists Educator Programme. This is an international group of art educators trained by Golden Paints, an American company. She was also selected to present a painting workshop in Miami in 2015, at a conference.
She cannot say she has a favourite painting, but points out that once she has done a painting, she is always a little sad to see it go: “I feel like it’s something I won’t ever do again. Most of my paintings are really large. I rarely paint small. The largest I have done was 2,5 m in length.”
Large works can be a challenge: “I am up and down a ladder working with outsize brushes. Arranging transport and accommodating these massive canvasses is a challenge as well.”
Karen loves to paint anything from nature: “I am inspired by my surroundings, and I am so lucky to live in a sub-tropical area, as I am surrounded by bright plants, trees and foliage. I also love painting animals and wildlife.”
She paints in all mediums but prefers acrylic and mixed-media painting as it provides instant gratification: “There is no waiting ages for the paint to dry. Also, there are so many exciting new paints and products available in acrylics.”
Among other highlights of her work is a painting commissioned for the British Lions. The painting of a lion was presented to the visiting British Lions rugby team, and is now on display at Twickenham.
“My latest painting is an orchid botanical in an oriental style. It is going to its new home in the UK. This client bought two paintings some time ago and the new one was commissioned for her sister. It is 90cm x90 cm. It took about three days to paint.”
Karen considers herself lucky to have repeat business and loyal customers.
“ I have a large project in the pipeline that will keep me busy for the next few months. I am working on a series of three abstract paintings, but fortunately, the customer is not in a hurry and I can take my time.
“I paint whenever I have a chance. I work mainly over weekends (when not doing show houses) and at night.”
Karen is every bit as enthusiastic about her work in property as she is about her art.
“We have worked with Owen Dormehl for many years. He has built a strong brand which is very well respected. We get tremendous support in terms of advertising, IT support , strong branding and a lovely new office.”
The new Umhlanga office is designed for a small team of dedicated people with a strong emphasis on service, she explains.
“This is a high-tech working space for agents to work from. There are currently three agents. Tony and I are selling agents as well as management.”
Karen and Tony met in the United States, she says: “We were both there on holiday and by coincidence stayed in the same hotel. That was in 1983… and we have been together ever since.”
Tony is a creative thinker and a good critic but cannot draw, she adds when asked if he also has artistic talent.