The Extraordinary People I Know

Ejo #60 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Karien Mulder

What is art?

Well, do you have all day? And several bottles of wine? I bet we still wouldn’t come to a consensus. How do you define something so personal, so illusory? I’ve been to galleries where the exhibits have not only left me cold, but actually perplexed. How is this considered art, I’ve thought to myself? And yet there are people fawning over the work. Gushing over it! By the same token I have stepped in front of a painting and been totally mesmerised, unable to look away. Unable to walk away. Lost in another world, another time. Transfixed.

Leo Tolstoy defined art thus:

“Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward the well-being of individuals and of humanity.”

And that’s about as good a definition as I’ve ever heard. I wonder how many bottles of wine he had to drink to come up with that one!

Now let’s get into some deep and meaningful stuff. Is Chryss Stathopoulos an artist? What is an artist? Someone who creates art, right? So, by definition, yes, I am an artist. But honestly, to call myself that feels like a lie. I create art, sure. I write regularly. I paint once in a while. I take photos when something catches my eye. But in my own opinion, that doesn’t make me an artist. A true artist is following a calling. Maybe I have a calling, but I sure as hell don’t follow it. I’m too married to my salary (right now) to give up being an air traffic controller (shackled by what I like to call the “golden handcuffs”). If I was a true artist I would say to hell with the money, to hell with the travel, to hell with the lifestyle and I would sit down and do everything I could to make a living from my “art”. But I don’t. So when I meet people who have done just that, I look at them with great awe and admiration.

One such person is the subject of this month’s ejo. Karien Mulder is a visual artist and designer in Dubai. I know her because our husbands work together. There are a lot of things about Karien that intrigue and inspire me. And most of them have to do with how different we are.

For instance, I didn’t grow up in a war zone. I spent my formative years in the leafy, Melbourne seaside suburb of Elwood, where the most exciting thing that ever happened to me was winning a spelling competition. Karien, on the other hand, grew up in Rundu, a town on the border of Namibia and Angola, during the South African Border War. Her parents were both in the military and her father was sometimes absent for months at a time. I imagine that as a young child she saw and experienced some pretty awful things. And as children do, she would escape the real world by playing. Her favourite memory of that time is spending hours chasing “sand lions”. She would patiently trick them out of the ground using a blade of grass to tickle the side of the sand funnel until they popped up. Only to put them back again. Another pastime she loved was drawing (particularly faces), something her mother taught her to do and something that would become a lifelong passion.

Catching sand lions

Catching sand lions

After they moved to South Africa (once the war was over), Karien’s mother allowed her to use the spare room of their house as a studio – and in a way it was this act of encouragement and support that really gave Karien a chance to flourish and grow and figure out that being an artist was what she really wanted to do. School was never a highlight for her, but the high school she transferred to in South Africa did have a fantastic art department – and so a confluence of opportunity presented itself to her. Art as a life choice.  She took hold of it and still hasn’t let go.

A young Karien hard at work in her studio.

A young Karien hard at work in her studio.

Having a mentor, I believe, is an important part of walking the artist’s path, and Karien has had a few along the way. People that she’s learned from, people who have guided her and inspired her. From the high school teacher with the shaved head and flowing skirts who taught her that actually creating work is more important than talking about it, to her best friend from whom she learned that every decision an artist makes should be towards creating better work. Karien’s most influential mentor though is the man who taught film at The Open Window School for Visual Communications, Pluto Panoussis. He opened her eyes to a whole other, moving, world, a world that she has confidently inhabited since.

But Karien had made a commitment to being an artist long before taking Pluto’s film class. At the tender age of 21 she packed up her car and drove to the South African coastal town of Langebaan with her cousin. She left because her father had just died. She left because she wasn’t enjoying the graphic design course she was three quarters of the way through. She left because it was the right move to make. It was a major step for her and I can’t imagine that she did it with no fear whatsoever. But she did it anyway. And while she was there, not only did she take part in some art exhibitions and work on her painting, developing her technique and skill. It was in Langebaan that Karien met the other love of her life, her husband Nic.

Nic and Karien are one of the most in love couples I’ve ever met. Their relationship is a beautiful thing and I admire them all the more for knowing just how different air traffic controllers are from artists (trust me, I really know). But they make it work – just like any relationship, you get what you put in. And to that effect Karien made a striking comment about it. When I asked her if there was a time when she knew she was going to be an artist she said, “Art is a soul commitment. Being an artist takes way more than being married. You commit to art more than you commit to another person”.

So while Karien keeps her art close to her, closer even than her husband, I keep mine as a mistress. Not even that. More like a booty call. Something I paw at when the urge takes me. Which is not what being an artist is about (though like all relationships, some nurturing and attention could improve things). Karien and I do share a creative spirit.  But I have squirrelled mine away, encasing it in a beautiful crystal box to protect it, only imagining what it must be like to create art as a life venture.  Karien, on the other hand, has taken her spirit, exposed it to the world, turned it over and thrown it up in the air (and probably up against a few walls too).  She made the difficult choice to be an artist.  She didn’t just dream about it.

I remember once taking part in a life drawing class. At the end of the session the instructor walked around checking everyone’s work. When she came to mine she stepped back and tilted her head. “Whose is this?” she asked and my heart skipped a beat. I put my hand up and she nodded. “This is really, really good,” she said. What I did with that compliment was allow it to fluff up my ego a little bit and then I stored it away in that nice little glass box where I could look at it from time to time, and admire it. That’s the difference between me and Karien. And that is why she is extraordinary.

Karien at work!

Karien at work!

You can check out Karien’s work at her WEBSITE.

You can also read an interview she recently did with Gulf Photo Plus HERE.

And here are a few of my favourite of Karien’s works. I hope to one day start a collection.

Karien 7 ‘To Pin a Ghost’ – Digital Image Composite on Paper

 Inspired by a fictional ghost story

Model & Make-up: Yowyn Du Plooy

Styling, Compositing and Photography: Karien Mulder

Wardrobe: Corsets SA

Assistant: Louise Malan

You can check out the project here:



Karien 8 ‘Rouge Pony Logo Design’ – Digital Image Composite on Paper

Inspired by tattoos, headpieces and vintage tattoo design.

Illustration and Model: Karien Mulder



Karien 6‘Drawing a Day Image 5’ – Pencil on paper, photographed in Instagram.

Inspired by making a drawing every day for 50 days.

Part of a work in progress.

Model: Yowyn Du Plooy


Karien 5‘Folk Self-Portrait’ – Mixed media on a found object (book)

A personal visual diary made as part of a project while at The Open Window School.  The idea was to develop your own personal illustration style through the medium of your choice.  Karien chose to work with random objects and explore concepts of South African folk art.

You can view the project here:



Karien 4‘Digital Self-Portrait’ – Vector illustration.

“A vector self-portrait based on a portrait I saw of Frida Kahlo some time ago.  I am (like most) a massive fan of her work and I particularly like the placement of her portraits – it sometimes reminds me of a mug shot.

Mug shots also interest me, and I have made a series these self-portraits in different environments. I like the idea of a universal self and how the decorative space is the voice of the personality.  In this way the individual ironically disappears.”


Karien 3“Self Portrait with handmade headpiece” – Digital Image Composite

“I made a couple of headpieces and I wanted to take some photos and didn’t have an available model.”

You can check out the project here:


Karien 2“Pen Doodle” – Pen on Paper



Karien 1“Doodle of a Concept for a video” – Watercolour on Paper

Ejo #56 – Extraordinary People I Know: Jack O’Loughlin

What is it that makes a person extraordinary? Sometimes it is their extraordinary actions – climbing Mount Everest, feeding starving children in Africa or walking a tightrope strung between two buildings. Sometimes though, what makes someone extraordinary is as simple as their sparkling humanity, their ability to connect. It doesn’t sound like much. But when you meet that special person you realise what an incredible gift they have. And how rare it is.

I vividly remember the day I met Jack O’Loughlin, for it was the day of my father’s funeral. He came along with his girlfriend Dee, both of whom were friends of my sisters. There are two things I remember the most about them being there. First, how nice it was that they had come – during a period of great darkness, it seemed like a very supportive and loving thing to do. The second thing I remember is that afterwards, we laughed. I mean we laughed until we cried. Hysterical guffaws, side-splitting chortles, belly-laughs galore. And who knows, this may have seemed inappropriate to the people around us, but after ten months of depression and anxiety and sad thoughts, after days of grieving, and after almost a year without any joy it was truly cathartic to just laugh. It was a release from the pain and the grief. And it was a hell of an introduction to the life force that was Jack.

And what a life force it was. I’ve never known anyone who was so goddamn alive. So full of vitality, so present in the moment, so full of fucking beans! People search their whole lives for meaning, wondering what their purpose is. Jack knew his purpose. He was here to live. And those of us who knew him, hey, we got taken along for the ride. And it was exhilarating. I only ever spent a handful of occasions in his company, but he left a permanent mark on my spirit. He was not perfect and he sure as hell wasn’t a saint. He was brash, and crude and, sometimes, he could even be a little bit intimidating.

The classic Jack and Dee "stinkeye"  If you didn't know him, or if you met him in a dark alley, you might be scared.  That is, until he gave you a great, big, warm bear hug.

The classic Jack and Dee “stinkeye” If you didn’t know him, or if you met him in a dark alley, you might be scared. That is, until he gave you a great, big, warm bear hug.

But Jack’s gift was that he was able to connect with people from all walks of life, melting down barriers and walls with the ease of a superhero. He was fun to be around because he created adventure in everything. Life was a gift and he was a kid under the Christmas tree. And more than anything else Jack was uncommonly kind and loving. He loved and was loved abundantly, but there was only one person who held a special place in his heart. Just one person that fit him perfectly. Jack proposed to Dee every single year for seven years until she finally said yes and married him on 18th April 2009*. They honeymooned in South America, gallivanting as newlyweds do, savouring their newly forged marital status.

Always up for a laugh.  Perhaps some pre-wedding jitters, too!

Always up for a laugh. Perhaps some pre-wedding jitters, too!

The newlyweds. What a beautiful couple.

The newlyweds. What a beautiful couple.

The look of love.

The look of love.

Just two months after their wedding, whilst walking to work early one morning, Jack was struck and killed by a speeding car. Just like that, he was gone. Words are rendered ineffective and useless when trying to describe this great loss. It was, and still is, an overwhelming devastation. It was hard to make sense of it then. It has remained, frankly, impossible to make sense of it now.

It was Jack’s birthday two days ago and David and I had a toast in his honour. He is still very much alive in so many people’s hearts, including ours. He burns as bright as ever, and his life force endures even though he is no longer around. I became quite emotional that night and, when I went to bed, I’m not ashamed to say that I had a good cry. I was sad for him, for Dee, and for me. I was sad for everyone who’s lost him. But at the same time, as I was weeping, I felt strangely comforted. It was almost as though he was there, in the dark, sitting on the edge of the bed, soothing me. Consoling me. Now, isn’t that extraordinary?

* * *

Some words from Jack’s mates:

He was the water that filled the cracks in the dream I didn’t know I wanted. Dee.

Jack (Johno) was (and still is) an extremely unique guy, a true loving soul. Someone who would always be there for you even before you hinted. Someone who always had my back. Completely selfless (except the times I’d make him take my help). He had this presence that you’d feel as soon as you were in the same room (and yes I still feel him now). Mal.

He was inclusive, protective, loyal, enthusiastic, and generous. He would talk to anyone and everyone regardless of their status, race, religion, etc. His unofficial philosophy of life was that he didn’t know if he liked or didn’t like something until he tried it. So he (quite literally) tried EVERYTHING! Apologies for the brevity of this message and lack of actual story content but I’m hungover to buggery and my brain is broken (I blame Jack, who would have made me go out today and do something active/fun/outrageous to distract me from the pain). Mish.

On first impression he might seem a little scary.  But when you look into his eyes you can see he's all heart. This photo is beautiful to me.

On first impression he might seem a little scary. But when you look into his eyes you can see he’s all heart. This photo is so beautiful to me.

Jack you always had time for me. Whether to laugh at me, or a kind word of advice, even if it was to say HTFU. Rob.

[After a phone prank, during which he pretended to be angry at me] I realised the effect he had on me, the level to which I held his esteem. I realised that besides my partner, and besides my best friend, this man Jack was the most solid male influence in my life after Dad died. I was crushed, thinking, even for those 10 minutes, that he didn’t love me anymore. I think we both realised how much we meant to each other. It was just a dumb incident but it ended up strengthening our relationship because it meant working at it. He was shocked at how a little of his aggression had affected me so greatly, I think he realised then how much he meant to me. Pieta.

We met Dee and Jack in 2007 when we moved next door. Through our renovation, Jack provided a friendly smile, advice and laughter, popping his head over the fence at unexpected times and joining in whatever was going on. He made us feel very welcome in the West, sharing with us the things that made Footscray home to him. His energy and zest for life was infectious. We only knew him for a very short time but his impact on us was great and will never leave us. He smiled with his eyes. P.S. Matthew misses sharing the sneaky cigarettes with Jack in the backyard. Matthew & Naomi.

Jack came over to our house to fix the kitchen sink because the taps were leaking. He was nice, kind, funny and the most beautiful fella I ever met. And I mean this because that’s how he came across – as a nice hearted person. We had some good laughs during his visit. And to make him an even better person, he refused to take money from me, and said laughing, “Maybe you can pay me next time, but not now lady”. In my heart and mind Jack was the most beautiful person, and I say that for the person he was. When I heard he was gone, my heart sank and I cried for him, losing his life so soon and in that way. And I cried for Dee, losing her loving partner. As painful as it is, Jack deserves to be remembered on his birthday and every day forever, for who he was, a gentle giant. Maria.

He had your back – he wouldn’t leave you hanging. He would give you the shirt off his back. He’d make sure everyone else was OK before making sure he was OK. David.

I did not know Jack very long but he impacted my life in a positive way. He showed me how to party properly, how to listen. He was also the inspiration for my first tattoo. He was a very great person who was loved and respected by all. I think about him a lot but it doesn’t make me sad, it makes me feel proud that I knew him. He was a blessing to me. Nick.

Jack to me was more than just a friend. He was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother. He also treated me like I was his brother. He was always there to help me. He always cheered me up. He was the first person in my life to actually take the time to help me build my self-confidence and to help me discover who I am as a person. He made me realise that there are so many people in the world that need help and that you should help them whenever you can. He taught me how to be strong and to stand up for yourself and those around you without resorting to violence. He was my best mate, my brother, my protector and my guide. He will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I have his picture beside my bed. I literally speak to him every day when I wake up and every night before bed. And he is still the most important person in the world to me. I kind of base the way I live my life on the kind person that he was, who always looked out for everyone. Even complete strangers. Justin.

The thing that stood out about Jack was not only that he was next level, take it to the bridge, can’t-feel-my-face fun with a capital F, but that he was so, so very generous a human being. Jack (and Dee) were incredibly kind to my family when we lost my Dad. I’ll never forget that. First time I met Jack was at a party and things were getting too loud and overwhelming for me so I slinked off to get my head together and he sauntered on after me and hung out with me for a while. It sounds like nothing, but it was such a kind thing to do. Jack just made it his business to make sure I, a stranger to him, was okay. We were friends after that and that’s just the way it was because he was inclusive and open-hearted and welcoming. The man had the charisma of 10 people.

I think about that easy human connection he offered so seemingly effortlessly and I’m heartbroken that what remains is an indelible scar where a glorious life should have blossomed and thrived. But I’m really grateful too. I actually do feel lucky to have known Jack. All those times we spent laughing and partying and carrying on, loom large in my mind as a reminder of how well he lived his life. Of how being loving, good-natured and caring can affect so many people in such a good way. I’m so grateful because I understand how truly rare and beautiful Jack was. Mari.

* I’d just like to say here that no extraordinary person would choose to marry somebody that was ordinary. Dee, herself, is an amazing person. Never defined by Jack, but definitely complemented by him, I can’t begin to imagine the hole in her life, created by his absence. Dee and Jack got together on 25th December 2000. This was her Facebook status on Xmas Day last year: “This time 13 years ago I fell irrevocably in love with the master of my universe. What a wild ride & stunning revelation it was to find the perfect fit for me. I will miss you forever Jack/John/Johnno.

Live.  Life.  Right.  Now.

Live. Life. Right. Now.

At a football game in Rio de Janeiro, during their honeymoon.

At a football game in Rio de Janeiro, during their honeymoon.

What a guy.  A man about to be married.

What a guy. A man about to be married.