May 29th, 2018
What do the following have in common: face and body painting, childhood cancer, trainers, murals, and RHS Chelsea? Stumped? Well here’s the answer: face and body painter Karen Huwen and her work with Supershoes.
Supershoes is a children’s cancer charity, and they’re on a mission: to empower children in treatment for cancer, enhancing their physical and emotional wellbeing and raising awareness along the way. They do this by customising trainers for children in treatment for cancer. Imagine a child receiving the gift of a pair of Supershoes, painted with all their favourite things: colours, animals, hobbies, TV characters, sports teams all encapsulated in a mini-masterpiece to wear. It’s a fabulous concept, and since 2013, well over 2000 very poorly children have been helped to feel very special and empowered.
Now to weave in the other connections. Hertfordshire-based artist Karen Huwen is no stranger to cancer. She herself is a cancer survivor and knows only too well the terrifying journey on the emotional rollercoaster that comes with that particular diagnosis. So, where and how does Supershoes fit in to Karen’s life?
“I first became aware of Supershoes through my face-painting network, on social media. Several of my colleagues were creating Supershoes, and I thought it was such a brilliant concept that I asked to be involved. That was over two years ago, and I’ve painted quite a few pairs since then. It gives me goosebumps when I open the box of plain trainers. Some of the ones I’ve painted have been so tiny, it stops you in your tracks. I hold them in my hands and think, ‘Oh no, someone very small is going through something so difficult, along with their family.’ I’m a mum too, and I know the feeling of ‘give it to me; I can take it; just not my kids’, but sadly, it happens. I just love the idea of giving some hope and joy and love to a child when they need it most.”
Little did Karen know that some of her other artistic talents were generating great excitement in the Supershoes office in nearby Milton Keynes. Sarah White, founder of Supershoes, had just heard that the charity had been offered to create a garden at RHS Chelsea, and was searching, along with garden designer, Laura Anstiss, for an artist to paint a huge graffiti wall to bring art, the raison d’être of Supershoes, into their Laced with Hope garden at Chelsea.
From her home in Cheshunt, Karen had been experimenting with alcohol inks and had produced a series of pictures which she’d shared on social media, entitled “The Many Faces of She”. Sarah saw these, and immediately knew that Karen’s style was perfect for the Supershoes garden wall. Things moved fast, the story for the wall was created and Karen’s concept, at first in inks on paper, and then translated into an acrylic masterpiece on a far, far larger surface – 20ft by 5ft.
Karen explains the story behind the wall, “The two features which flow through the entire work are the child blowing the dandelion, and its drifting seedlings, symbolising hopes and wishes, and the gold ribbon, the symbol of childhood cancer, echoing the laces in a pair of Supershoes, with the words: faith, love, journey; all deeply meaningful.
“The wall depicts the child’s journey through diagnosis, head in hands in anguish and confusion, wishing, hoping, hair-loss. It progresses in abstract form, working through the roaring emotions, to a happier place of memories of favourite things: horseriding – there’s a horse’s head depicted – and dancing, on tiptoe as if to reach up for the stars. These are exactly the kind of things which might be included on a pair of Supershoes, to boost that child’s confidence and wellbeing, and remind them of who they are, above and beyond their disease and treatment.”
Supershoes is delighted to be at RHS Chelsea this year, showcasing Karen’s work and raising awareness of childhood cancer. To find out more about Karen’s work, go to www.TruetoYourArt.com To find out more about Supershoes, go to www.supershoes.org.uk.