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In Conversation: Sarah Kelk

Pragmatism and creativity rarely go hand in hand. Typically, they fight each other for attention in a constant push and pull between what’s realistic and what’s romantic. Artist Sarah Kelk is one of very few who naturally balances both sides to a tee. This balance has woven itself into her latest body of work – Everyday Ephemera – which, in our director Amy Malin’s words, is “calming but resonant with the energy of everyday life”.

The creation of Everyday Ephemera didn’t go exactly as planned because, well, Covid. In Sarah’s words, it took ‘hard work, tenacity and some soul searching’. But after the initial shock wore off, she bunkered down in her home studio searching for some answers and this exceptional body of work ensued.

There are endless ways you can engage with this exhibition; as well as our chat with Sarah below, you can listen to and download her Studio Sounds playlist on Spotify; head inside the exhibition on the journal with a full gallery of images by Elise Scott; or kick things up a notch and take a virtual tour here.

Sales are now open; you can download the catalogue with all artwork details and shop the exhibition online. Alternatively, contact us or visit us in store to view the exhibition!

The creation of Sarah's latest body of work Everyday Ephemera didn't go exactly as planned, but after the initial shock of Covid wore off, she bunkered down in her home studio and an exceptional body of work ensued.

Sarah, welcome back to the Modern Times gallery! Tell us about your latest body of work, Everyday Ephemera.

I had grand ideas at the start of the year as to what this show was to be about, but well, COVID-19 and our 6 months of lockdown in Melbourne kind of took over! After my initial panic buying (of painting supplies, not frozen peas) and the shock of becoming a homeschool parent/teacher, I started to bunker down in my home studio, searching for some answers. I realised just how much time I spend looking at my studio wall, which is basically a mega mood board from decades of collecting.

Each work came from reaching out to what was around me in my studio. Pops of colour, strong lines, moody hues, landscape photos from favourite spots. Within these works, you'll find endless references to architecture, nature and light amongst dense layers of colour.”
— Sarah Kelk
Searching for answers within her studio, she realised just how much time she spends observing and taking in her studio wall filled with photographs, mementoes and drawings.
The resulting works reference architecture, landscapes and nature amongst dense layers of colour.

Why do you think your wall of mementoes, postcards and photographs is so powerful?

In a broader sense, I’m really interested in our relationships and connections to material objects, even if they are just snippets of collected paper, often meant to be discarded. I’m fascinated by the history and associations from this array of ‘life samples’ collected specifically by me, for me and I love how these ideas continuously play a role in my history and narrative as a painter.

On a more personal note, there are some really special mementoes on my studio wall – pictures of family, postcards from visited exhibitions, early drawings, found objects – the list goes on.

"I'm fascinated by the history and associations from my array of collected ‘life samples’ and I love how these ideas continuously play a role in my history and narrative as a painter," Sarah says.

Many people are fascinated by how you build your works layer upon layer. It seems to come very naturally to you – does it feel like a fluid process or are there challenges along the way?

I usually have strong ideas when starting a new work, thinking I know exactly how the piece is going to work out. Once I start however, this planning almost always goes out the window!

Each layer feeds off one another, building up the language as I go which is why I really try to tap into the instinctual feeling when painting. That’s not to say that it doesn’t come without challenges. Some works flow easily, with clear direction from the early layers, other works take A LOT longer to ‘work themselves out’. It’s one of the main reasons I love painting. I never really know exactly how each piece will turn out, until all of a sudden it does!

Whenever I'm stuck for ideas, feeling sad or overwhelmed, I'll often sit with a cuppa and stare at my studio wall, taking in the over 200 mementoes surrounding me and immediately feel more settled.”
— Sarah Kelk

You have an incredible eye for colour. What does your colour selection process involve?

My colours process is very similar to the layering process of my work. I’ll often have a cohesive idea about the palette that a piece or body of work will take, and somehow, once I start, the relationship between the colours, shape and balance in a work take over.

Funnily enough, when I started initially planning this show, I had intended for the whole body of work to be entirely in neutrals! Guess the work had other plans.

Sarah really tries to tap into her instinctive side when painting - allowing the works to take on a life of their own.
Some works flow easily, while others take some time to 'work themselves out' - one of the reasons Sarah loves painting so much.

What’s it been like creating a body of work during such an unsettling year?

I’m actually so proud of myself for creating this body of work during the year that is 2020, it certainly didn’t happen without hard work, tenacity and some soul searching.

With forced isolation, it’s reminded me that I can’t control everything, (which I have a tendency to do) and so I really embraced the simplicity and connections surrounding me. Having a layer of ‘stuff’ taken away (eg general life going-ons) really helped organise my thinking, so once I had time to reflect and reset, creating this body of work during such an unsettling year has quite honestly been very cathartic and I think it will be a personal marker of an extraordinary year.

Creating this body of work during such an unsettling year has quite honestly been very cathartic and I think will be a personal marker of an extraordinary year. ”
— Sarah Kelk
There were personal challenges involved in digging deep to create a body of work during such a tumultuous time, and the result is a personal marker of an extraordinary year.

What are some of your biggest takeaways from 2020 and what are you most looking forward to doing next year?

I don’t think I will ever take for granted the simple things in life, of which there are many – too many to list. But here’s a few anyway: hugs from my Mum, ocean swims, a shared table full of friends and a cold beer at the pub!

Photography by Elise Scott.

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