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Discover more about Kelly Sweeney, her work, her inspirations and her passion for wildlife as she embarks on her first solo show.
What or who are the main inspirations behind your work? The inspiration almost always comes from an encounter with nature. It will be something that provokes my curiosity and intrigue. The subjects I work with are never chosen as such they just present themselves in a way that find captivating. I spend time in museums and wildlife sanctuaries but there are many pieces that have developed from chance encounters. I came back from travels in South East Asia with tons of ideas, sketches and photographs. I also reference symbology that I feel reflects the character or the essence of the subject and am interested in ancient cultural belief systems and mythology.
How do you approach the actual making of a piece? My work begins initially as some kind of recording from observation whether through photography or sketching. The subjects I decide to develop end up on the drawing board and can be there for months whilst I add and remove detail and work in to it. What happens to the original drawing is hard to explain...I work intuitively but the end result usually involves some kind of fantastical element to it. The pieces that end up as screen prints exist as pen and ink drawings usually exactly the same size as the print. I find it hard to work within the boundaries of the paper at times. Being a printer and painter I like to fuse both practices together and many prints end up with hand painted layers or are hand finished after the print process with pens.
My paintings develop from the same sources but obviously this is a different process and like the pen and ink drawings it can be a long one. The paintings are perhaps more emotive and are suggestive of a narrative. My latest body of work are all in different shades of blue. I can't really explain this but it is all I want to paint with at the moment. I paint in many layers and like to combine gestural marks with controlled and considered brush work.
What’s your medium? I draw with ink pens when out and about sketching, pen and ink when back in the studio and acrylic paint and mediums when painting on canvas. I also print using acrylic based inks. I have always loved the immediacy of acrylic although it does have a very quick drying time.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without? Realistically my glasses as I am blind as a bat without them but I would also miss my recording gear like my camera & sketching pens as far as my work is concerned. Without them there would probably be no artwork.
What are you currently working on? I have just completed a new body of paintings for my first solo show at The Hop Gallery in Lewes. I have literally been in the studio pretty much 24/7 over the last few months. It has been a really intense period but working like that allows me to focus and my head becomes completely consumed by my work. It is the first time I have seen my prints and paintings exhibited together in a gallery space without another artists work. I think it will allow for some creative reflection.
Describe your work in 5 words. Emotive, fantastical, inky, telling, reflective
What themes do you pursue? Nature holds a fascination for me and I can't imagine working from anything else. I can't believe some of these creatures even exist?! If I am lucky enough to be around a subject that has just 'got me' I get completely absorbed by it and will have to be dragged away. I am also interested in anthropology, mythology and mysticism which I reference depending on what I am working on. New interests capture my attention all of the time. I love learning about different cultural beliefs. To be honest I am a bit of a geek.
Does the impact of the viewer influence your work and if so how? It does in that I don't want a piece to ever say too much or over explain itself. I like the idea that a piece of art is open to interpretation and that this will change from person to person and day to day. I don't like to say too much about a piece of work. I am always interested in what people see in a piece as it can be diverse. Some viewers bring their own story which may be worlds away from mine but I think that is a good thing and keeps the work alive somehow.
What memorable responses have you had to your work? My mum walked in to my current show and burst in to tears. I think it was because she liked it?! I had a couple at an art fair once who made noises like that they were absolutely completely and utterly disgusted by my work...it was actually really funny because it was such a severe reaction and something that will always raise a smile in me. They didn't buy anything.
What led you to become an artist? Honestly it is the only thing I have ever been. I think an artist is something I just am. I'm not sure if I would choose to be one? I can't remember wanting to do anything else.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist? I worked in art education for 7 years which I absolutely loved. I remember thinking it was the closest thing to being an artist after I graduated. I ended up in a great position and so stayed much longer than planned. I miss working with young people and will always get involved with creative projects that provide the opportunity to work with them. Watching young artists develop is incredibly rewarding. I get a real buzz from it.
What makes you angry? I can be pretty impatient. Rudeness.....it just isn't necessary.
When are you happiest? When I am around animals, especially dogs. I was at Battersea Dogs & Cats home last week dropping off a print for Collars & Coats and fell in love with a Staffie called Hooch.....he is still consuming my thoughts. I am guilty of strategically crossing the road to place myself in prime dog stroking position especially if a Staff is coming my way.
What superpower would you have and why? I would love to be able to shape-shift and become any animal I like for any amount of time. I could keep Hooch company until he finds a new home!
In another life (if you weren’t an artist) what would you be doing? Working in animal conservation around the world.
Name three artists you’d like to be compared to and why. That’s a tough one as I'm not sure I am worthy of being compared to any of these people so I'll just name them as 3 of the artists I am currently into: Titian, Gary Hume, James Ensor
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? "just making something you can live with is enough" Gary Hume and "work on one painting at a time" Caroline Fish.