Kelly Sullivan - August Artist of the Month at Retrospect Gallery

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Interview by Rachelle Slater,

Kelly's work is largely based on circumstances that surrounded her when she was young, as she was born to a family of great iconic imagery and pop culture of the 20th Century. Her work is fundamentally grounded in graphic pop culture.

Kelly has worked extensively in the Arts, Theatre & Music Industry for the last 20 years along the East Coast of Australia. She now resides in Byron Bay and when she isn't crafting and painting, she works seasonally on the Splendour In The Grass music and arts festival.

I popped in for a cuppa and a chat with Kelly to get the lowdown on her latest work.

How did the map thing come up?

The map thing just came up I guess because I'm into visual graphic stuff so I started just looking around at old books and Mr Google and just lucked onto all these cool old retro maps and then I became fascinated with them and I started collecting them in a folder. I've always been fascinated by the graphic nature of art and that's what drew me to the maps.

What do mean by graphic nature of art?

Well just really flat colour. Graphics is making a bit more of a comeback in art now, as opposed to realistic kind of painting. They're sort of like a visual diagram I guess of what's going on around here and in my head...

Your first map seemed like it was more about the physical environment, literally, the newer works, especially Friday on My Mind, are more internal? Is that like a step further?

I guess it is a step further, um; I'm interested in visualising ideas that don't necessarily have a geographical landscape basis to them, so they are bridging art and design and demented geography.

What does that mean?

Well I'm taking elements of art and I'm putting them together to make up this made up kind of world, like a demented geography. They are less social comment, more of a fictional state of mind thing. With the mind map one (Friday on My Mind) it's just about how many thoughts you can have in one day, how they just all link up. You know you could take any topic and do that with it, how it just sprouts out into something far beyond where you started.

They could be endless pieces of work, and they were hard to paint, they looked great on paper, but when I actually started to paint it I thought “what am I doing?" It was laborious, and difficult to know where to end it and where to fit it all in and trying to link it all up. But that's just the thing, you're always striving to make something, when you see it in your head it doesn't always come out exactly the same way when you paint it.

What about the painting Who are the People in Your Neighbourhood, is the text from things people have said to you or..?

That's from an obsession with personal ads. That I've collected in the local paper and off the internet. It does relate to a lot of stuff that is going on around here and there's lots of personal ads I guess. I guess I'm at the age where my friends are either getting vasectomies or divorces. They're all on e-harmony and their telling me about these experiences of putting in ads and funny quips about who answers them and I just find it fascinating I guess. Advertising love.

It s based around people around here, there's a comment in there about wanting a woman to make booby traps and skin rabbits. They're funny, you can get drawn into it, working out all the little codes DTE, GSOH, it's a different language altogether.

And it's almost like a secret code which I kind of like.

(Vinnie (Kelly's son): "What's your favourite colour mum?", "Red Darl..")

Thanks Vinnie.

I guess there's states of mind and states of places and identity as well, like that's all attached to them. People's identities are in those ads, and that's something that I'm drawn to, especially around here because it's such a melting pot of identities.

That's one way to get a whole picture from little parts, putting it all together.

Yes that's it, you've got the yoga practising vegetarian next door and on the other side you've got the crack head psychopath that drives a Ute at 100 miles an hour. And I don't think it's just relative to Byron I think it's um, pretty much any seaside town.

So it's your reaction to where you live?

Yeah I guess so. It's more of a collection of identities and how I see it too, and how they put themselves out there, like in the newspaper,

So it's not necessarily your personal opinion?

No, it's just a statement really.

Can we talk about the Wild West work, which are a little bit different, the maps seem very ordered in comparison, are they related at all?

Yeah I do see them as related; they're landscapes, chaotic landscapes. I know the other ones have more of a rigid structure to them but I do see them as related I guess. In the cowboy and Indian ones there's an element of us vs. them, again I think that nostalgia thing of playing cowboys and Indians and it was us vs. them and in a sense I still see a lot of that around the Byron shire, as well.

As a counter voice against some of the people that are around here, I guess that's on a more personal level of you know, if you don't go the farmers market and vote greens and do yoga and wear hemp clothing then you can be seen to be out on the fringe and out of the loop.


And as much as they espouse to be people that are inviting and ah, they can be very closed minded groups of people. I don't think they are accepting as they would like to think they are at all.

I think they're quite the opposite and I guess that those paintings are related to that, whether I'm the cowboy or the Indian, it's still the great division I guess with the gentrification of this shire, of people moving here from the city and you're never going to be seen as a local. As well you've also got the older people who have been here for generations, it can be a bit of a gated community.

So you feel like an outsider?

Yeah I do, very much so. I don't know what the old Byron is, they use to cut down timber here, and then they were a whaling station and a meatworks station and I don't know why people say they want the old Byron Bay, I think there's an element of being stuck in time, when it was a quiet little hippy town when everybody came and surfed and smoked heaps of pot. And I'm sure it was a beautiful, idyllic place then but you know, time moves on.

It's based on tourism and always has been.

Yes, my first job in Byron, when I was 14 (25 yrs ago) was selling t-shirts to tourists.

I think the sooner they get their head around it which I think is unfortunate, that it's taken this long. On one of my paintings it says, "if its tourist season, how come we can't shoot them?"

It's that gated community. You go into Byron now and there's shops closing everywhere and it's sad I mean I know it's the sign of the times but you know.

Do you have a particular piece that you feel especially connected to?

Probably the first one I ever sold which was the You Are Here one. I guess that was the start of it all really. A friend ended up buying that one so I get to see it. The maps are all interlinked but they are different, about different topics. I mean I don't want to be stuck painting maps for the rest of my life but I do feel like it's making a progression somewhere else and I am drawn to the graphic side of stuff. And I love type, I like words on paintings. Words can make a picture comical or serious.

Well that's what is so interesting about your work is its all text!

Yeah, a friend described my paintings as great for dinner parties like you could just sit there and there's all the elements. Hopefully they are pieces that you don't get bored of easily.

Are you happy painting with acrylics?

I love acrylics mainly because I'm a mum and its quick drying and there's so many different brands of acrylics now that look like oils anyway.

I really love gouache as well, it's great to do text with but you can't actually varnish it so um which is okay but I do like to varnish the paintings at some point.

And what of the future, what's coming up for you?

I'm doing a miniature show, which is 25 by 25(cm), of 9 paintings coming up at the end of the year. I'm thinking about some childhood maps. They are kind of going to be about revenge, as in you know walking past Mrs. Mc gillihunnies house and I picked off all the flowers on her bush, it's sort of like a path home from school, chased the red-headed kid up the rd and throw rocks at him.

Are these things you thought you would have liked to have done or things you actually did?

Oh yeah I probably did them all, throwing eggs, you know I was a bit naughty. And there's other things that other kids did that I would include in there as well, so it's just about um, growing up I guess. I would follow a certain map home from school every day and then change it, and then you'd have a fight with somebody so you wouldn't walk past their house, you'd have to cross the rd, or someone had germs. All that kind of stuff.

Where will that exhibition be?

Retrospect again, but maybe in the Gold Coast gallery at the end of the year.

Thanks so much Kelly!

Check out Kelly's paintings in person at the opening, this Friday, August 5 between 6:00pm - 8:00pm, Retrospect Gallery, 52 Jonson Street, Byron Bay. See you there!

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