PAINTER AND ILLUSTRATOR KELLY MCKERNAN DISCUSSES HER EXPLORATION OF THE PRESSURE ON WOMEN, CULT SERIES AND DEFINING PIECE ELEMENTS

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The central theme behind your work is ‘a woman and a world’, something which can have so many connotations and avenues. What first drew you to exploring this in your practice and how would you say your investigations have evolved since you started?

Often when this statement applies to my process, it's because I'm approaching a piece with a question: how does this woman interact with her surroundings? What does it mean to her? And what does it mean to me? What lead her to this place and where is she going to go from here? I enjoy this process because it delves into my own subconscious and causes me to reflect upon my own place in the timeline of my life. Therefore, many of my works are autobiographical and self-portraits in a sense - I'm discovering bits and pieces about myself at the same time as the subjects in my paintings discover themselves.


 

In your work, some might consider that the female figures exist in the space of containment and entrapment either by their own doing or by the environment surrounding them, with elements often coming across their figures or drawing them in from the background. Would you say exploring the societal pressures on a woman, particularly in light of recent developments in America, is something that is ever more pressing? Also, how do think current international events will impact on the works your currently creating?

To be completely honest, I'm unsure. I'm certain that current events will find a way to seep into the narrative of my work, but I may not be able to see it until some time has passed, just as the case is with previous work: I can see how whatever life event I was dealing with has manifested itself within a painting created during that time, but I couldn't see it while creating the piece. I can definitely see that my work may become more confident and the women within show more agency, strength, and as though they're finding their voice, which I can say is true of myself as this point in my life. I'm currently going through a divorce and left a religion that suppressed the voices of women within it, all in the last year. So, both in my personal life as well as in current events, I am finding my strength, confidence, and am fighting for the life that I want for myself and for my 3 year old daughter's future.

Your personal style is really aesthetically attractive. I'm particularly interested in your use of white/negative space as a colour defining elements of your work. Talk to us about your colour decisions and where you developed your signature style?

It's hard to say how I make my decisions regarding color use, because it's extremely intuitive. But I do make sure to keep a limited palette of 3-5 colors in order to keep the work looking fresh and contained. Regarding my style, it's just come from years of being inspired and influenced by work that I enjoy from current artists as well as the movements of art nouveau, art deco, surrealism, and the pre-raphaelites. I'm also strongly inspired by organic lines and shapes found in nature.


 

The pop culture series you do, inspired by things like Alice in wonderland ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ and Beetlejuice ‘Strange and Unusual’, has a distinctively darker feel to it, what motivates you to explore your relationship to these cult icons and how do you select inspiration to explore?
Many of those works are created for group shows with galleries such as Gallery 1988, so I'm given a theme to work with, and I'll approach the directive through the lens of my own work and go from there. It just totally depends on whatever vision I have for the theme in question. It's a unique challenge too, because I'm working with source material that is loved and enjoyed by many, including myself (otherwise I wouldn't bother). I definitely want to create something fresh and different from what's already out there too.


 

You studied for a BFA focusing on painting and drawing but took up illustration post 2009, what effect did this alternate way of working have on the pieces you were creating? Would you say straddling the lines between fine artist and illustrator provides you with a greater realm of influences and inspiration? 

There was a time, roughly between 2011 and 2014, where I wasn't sure whether I identified more as a fine artist or as an illustrator. I kept trying to box myself into one or the other, or both separately. I didn't like that each required me (or so I thought) to approach my work differently. Eventually, I realized that I didn't need to categorize my work as either or both and instead to focus on creating work that I enjoyed. It could be perceived as illustrative, but also created for a gallery show, and therefore deemed as "fine art." The line between the two is blurring more than ever, which is a nice place to have landed in, and I feel far less pressured to be one or the other. Why shouldn't I be both? I would agree that being a part of both worlds certainly exposes me to a myriad of influences and inspiration! There are so many illustrators I wouldn't have been aware of were I not a part of the sci-fi and fantasy illustration community. 


The showcase of your work thus far has been pretty impressive, what can we expect in 2017 - where should we be looking out to see your works?
Thank you! In 2017, I'm working on a project via Patreon (www.patreon.com/kellymckernan) to illustrate a Hanafuda card deck. I have two suits out of 12 completed and I am loving the challenge thus far! I'm also looking forward to incorporating additional media into my work, such as glazing over my watercolor paintings with oils. Stay tuned!


 

CHECK OUT MORE OF KELLYS’ WORK AT www.kellymckernan.com 

INTERVIEW by ART WEEK / HANNAH SMITH 

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