Interwoven with Kels O'Sullivan May 04 2021

Kels O’Sullivan is an emerging artist with a background in design and illustration. Living and working at Victor Harbor, South Australia, her natural coastal surroundings are a constant source of inspiration. She is especially interested in the beauty of the abstracted form and enjoys deconstructing shapes to create beautiful, balanced and emotive compositions. Symbolising relationships with everyday forms, expressing emotion, reflecting experiences and surroundings through the use geometry, colour, pattern, line and repetition.

Interview by Joseph Estorninho. Photos supplied by Kels O'Sullivan.

Did you have any key inspirations when creating these new works?

As a graphic designer, most of my work is informed by my design training and practice, particularly by the grid, geometry, contrast, harmony, abstracting form into shapes. I am heavily inspired by shape, whether that be in the natural environment or architectural. Particularly looking at shadows, water reflections, textures in woven fabric. I believe that there is a beauty in repetition and in this series I wanted to explore the brushstroke patterning further with more layering of colour, to create more complex textures. I am very interested in colour theory and optics.

In your last blog post from almost a year ago, just as COVID was really starting to change all our lives, you talk about how it was affecting your creativity. A year later, how have you adapted or what methods do you employ to recharge the creative batteries?

When COVID began changing our lives it was a very strange time. I didn’t know how art fitted into my life. It suddenly felt selfish, self-indulgent and unimportant in the scheme of what everyone one was going though with loss of jobs, fear, panic. I still felt creative but I also felt guilty that I didn’t know how to use it to help people. I realised that as my kids were learning from home I could channel creativity into their activities and make their learning more fun from home. That got me through a tough period. Eventually I realised that people were finding art hopeful and that it was really important positive thing in the world. I also adapted because at the time, I was a graphic designer in my day job, I lost a lot of work in the beginning of COVID as lots of the events that I worked on were cancelled. The shining light was that it gave me more time to paint, experiment, try new things, push myself.

Do you think this past year has changed your work?

Yes. For a while over the past year, the colours I used changed quite a bit. I swapped out the more primary colours for softer pastels, pinks, and I used my brushstroke patterning quite minimally. I think I wanted to feel calm, simple. Now I’m back with more intense colour and lots more patterning and overlaying, more than I have ever done before. I have gone quite the opposite direction, with a more maximalist approach to the overlaying of colour and texture.

You previously mentioned that your intention with colour is to communicate joy, that you want the viewer to feel good when viewing your work. Is that still the idea with these palettes?

I don’t think it is exclusive to joy. I definitely want to create an emotional response for the viewer: I want them to feel something, get them thinking, find their own interpretation. Which is why my work is intentionally abstract, with minimal titles to encourage the viewer to interpret the work in their own way and find their own meaning. I have my own ideas with a piece's meaning but I would like it to speak to the viewer in a way that’s relative to them.

Working the way you do with such a signature style, how do you keep your work evolving and fresh?

I treat every work as individual. I feel like I have a million ideas and I just can’t get them done quick enough. Each piece leads on to ideas for the next. As colour theory and texture is such a big part of my work there’s so much diversity in that, so many things to experiment with and places to take it.

One thing that makes your work recognisably yours is the texture you employ which has a textile like quality. How is textile relevant to you and your work?

I am heavily influenced by textiles. But it didn’t begin that way. It began as I was going through a process of creating random mark-making with pen and ink. I noticed that I had done some very rough patterning that reminded me of a woven garment. I coincidentally began getting into weaving around this time and putting the two together became something I was quite heavily interested in: brushstroke patterning that resembled weaving which also opened up a minefield of possibilities with colour theory.

It seems as though you would need a lot of concentration and a steady hand while doing your work. Is there something you need to help you concentrate? Music or peace and quiet?

Yes, I need a steady hand, especially if my work is on paper. As the brushstroke is raised, if I make a mistake I can’t really paint over it or fix it, it is there forever. On paper it only takes one wrong stroke to ruin a painting. Painting on board is a little more forgiving, I can tweak some tiny things.

I get comments saying that it looks meditative. And I think it is in the true sense of the word! I feel equally relaxed and intensely concentrating at the same time.

I enjoy listening to music while painting, it helps me to get into that sweet spot of concentration, clear headedness and calm. Sometimes when beginning a painting it can seem so overwhelming how many individual brushstrokes there are and it seems impossible, and music helps to give me a nudge. I particularly have an affinity with Andrew Bird’s music when I’m painting.

How do you like to unwind?

Unwind... I don’t know if I do ever unwind. I don’t think I ever truly ‘switch off’. Always looking for inspiration out there in the world, but definitely love to go to a gallery, keep up to date with design, explore in nature, watch a film, listen to music and of course, plenty of activities with the kids!

We really appreciate your time Kels and look forward to seeing your pieces.