INTERVIEW | Nicole Kelly

INTERVIEW | Nicole Kelly

09 NOV

Inspired by the emotive nature of colour, Australian artist Nicole Kelly captures moments of time in her textural oil paintings. Kelly has been bestowed with myriad accolades during her painting career, including winning the prestigious Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship. Endless time and isolation that we have collectively experienced over the last few years are themes she explores in her most recent exhibition - slices of life in interior settings, expertly captured with her vibrant strokes of colour and swift brushwork. Her work reframes that time as a period that strengthened intimacy and encouraged true interaction with life, and the spaces we inhabit. We spoke to her about her inspiration, art and her daily rituals.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I am an artist based in the Illawarra region in NSW and working primarily as a painter. The genre of my painting moves fluidly across landscapes, interior spaces and figurative and are motivated by a sensitivity to the passing of time. I am interested in the emotive use of colour, the interaction of colour to create optical vibrations across the picture plane and to invoke a sense of multiple, overlapping, unresolved moments and spaces. My paintings are an evocation of and response to the feeling of being in an environment.

Books and Windows
oil on polyester
170 x 200.5 cm (framed)

Can you talk about what creativity means to you and where you find inspiration?

For me creativity is a combination of love and courage, risk and failure to make meaning and test ideas with and against materials. All painting is a threshold between the known and unknown, between our interior and exterior worlds and is an act that happens to record an experience and conversation between the maker and the work.

For me inspiration emerges when what I think I recognise or know becomes mysterious. This happens with any sustained looking, and looking anywhere. The practice of drawing instigates this deeper looking and is always my entry point to make the connection between ideas and my experience of living in the world that are otherwise difficult to make.

I find inspiration in places, people, experiences, uncertainties and worries, joys, things that stay constant and things that change. Some of my works are direct and representational. Others turn inwards towards mood and emotion, and draw upon memory.

Kitchen Sink
oil on polyester
89 x 73.5 cm (framed)

Old Bath
oil on polyester
89 x 73.5 cm (framed)

Why are you drawn to the medium of oil paint?

I am totally seduced by the romance of oil paint. Its visceral quality; its feel, texture, smell, sound - the feeling as I lay the colours on the palette, the scraping of the pallet knife, the feel of the brush in my hand as it touches the surface of the canvas and the smell that pervades the studio. I enjoy and need the time that oil paint allows for mixing. I spend around 80% of my studio time mixing colour and 20% actually putting paint on canvas. There is a magic at play that begins with the medium itself and moving it around on the palette. The painting starts long before I begin to paint.

Your recent work is inspired by the domestic interior, why were you drawn to this subject matter?

My interest often lies in the ambiguity of person and place, and the suspended narrative revealing just enough to give an impression of a moment. Within the body of work 'Margins of intimacy' the play of interior spaces, design, architecture, domestic settings and scenes, allusions to moments just passed and the idea of a home all interest me.

My paintings are often more about an internal space, whether it’s a landscape or an interior and a constant attempt to portray reality in a way that is not tied to a purely diagrammatic or literal representation. The canvases are tainted with personal experience and mingle with fiction, unfurling a version of stories, memories, dreams and reality.

Purple Kitchen
oil on polyester
89 x 73.5 cm (framed)

Winter Sun
oil on polyester
54 x 48 cm (framed)

One of your recent works, Winter Sun, was painted at Paramount House Hotel, where our linen dresses the beds, what draws you to there?

My partner and I live an hour south of Sydney and when I exhibit in Sydney we stay at Paramount House on the opening night. This is both a reward to myself for pulling together the show and a comfort to return to the same familiar space, to gather myself before going to my opening. As it is a place I constantly return to I have a strong emotional overlay of memory wrapped up in Paramount House interior spaces, which opens up great possibilities as a painting subject.

What are your daily rituals?

I have a strong and relatively consistent morning ritual. I wake early and go for an ocean swim, I do three rounds of WIM breath work and then drink coffee and read, mostly non-fiction and painting related. Around 10am I head to the studio for the day. I play chess in the afternoon and have to set time limits because I could play for hours and I generally try to read a novel at night before bed although sometimes netflix takes over. I find life much more difficult on the days I stray from these rituals.

Artworks, left to right: Justin Hinder, Stealth, acrylic on canvas, 22 x 27cm, Nicole Kelly, Pinholes of Silver, oil on polyester, 170 x 200.5 cm, Aaron Fell-Fracasso, An Ocean in Between the Waves, oil, acrylic and pigment ink on board, James Ettelson, Flirting, ceramic with glaze and lacquer, 15 x 20cm, Mark Merrikin, Bluer than water but lets pretend otherwise, acrylic, airbrush and coloured pencil on board, 27 x 27cm.

Shop the look

Nicole Kelly is represented by Arthouse Gallery.
She is currently exhibiting as part of Quintet, at Hazelhurst Arts Centre until November 13.


Photography by Flore Vallery-Radot, William Mansfield, Nicole Kelly and Silversalt Photography.