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Visual Art

In the Studio with Michelle Kelly

Visual Art

Mushrooms sprout up everywhere in the studio of metalsmith and jeweller Michelle Kelly, whose constantly evolving arts practice reflects her fascination with fungi.

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“Everything I can do outside, I do,” says Kelly, looking out her studio window into her large backyard.

She recently relocated her studio to the back of her home in West Richmond. It is a snug space – Kelly stands over her workbenches, while I sit on a chair that blocks the doorway – overflowing with tools, silicone moulds and past projects.

Kelly’s relationship with the outdoors doesn’t come as a surprise; on every surface of the studio, there is a recurring element that gives her inspiration.

“Well, obviously, mushrooms,” she remarks. “It’s all about the mushrooms.”

The form, colours and layered structures of fungi fascinate the artist, who aims to capture the organisms’ beauty in her pieces, as well as furthering awareness of their value beyond being a food source.

“Initially, it was a visual thing, but then I started to do a lot of research,” she explains. “That’s when it kind of became more interesting for me, where you know about how important fungi are and what they do for the planet… There’s so much still out there to learn, and I haven’t got bored with it yet.”

Kelly likes to work outside when she can. Photo: Jack Fenby

Playing in the background as we chat is Gang of Youths’ “Let Me Down Easy”, which sets the tone for how Kelly likes to work while experimenting with different materials and techniques to create pieces ranging from jewellery to small and large-scale sculptural works and installations.

“I listen to music, and podcasts… [it’s] just that background thing, to help with the tone. Otherwise, you can just get in your own headspace. It just keeps the day going.”

Kelly says she would prefer a studio elsewhere, separated from home life, because she often gets distracted by other tasks. However, podcasts actually helps her stay in her workspace when she becomes engrossed by the content she is listening to.

“Also, even though you’re not interacting with people, the people in the podcasts are kind of speaking to you. It feels like you are in company in some way.

“One day, I’ll move out again. It’s just, at this time, it’s best to be here and I’m lucky that I have been able to set up.”

Artist Michelle Kelly

Fungi here, there, everywhere… inside the artist’s snug studio. Photo: Jack Fenby

Her studio when we meet, as her latest exhibition, Dark Taxa, is about to open at JPE Design Studio as part of the 2023 SALA Festival.

“Dark taxa, or dark matter fungi, refers to a large proportion of fungal species that can’t be linked to any physical specimen or resolved taxonomic name,” Kelly explains.

“That’s because we are still discovering new pieces of fungi all the time. New species lack that taxonomic identity and, because of this, they are ignored in many important contexts.

“These species are left out of decisions on things to do with the environment, nature, conservation, stuff like that.”

Artist Michelle Kelly

Michelle Kelly seeks to capture the layered structures of fungi in her works. Photo: Jack Fenby

Kelly describes all the pieces she’s creating for the exhibition as “a little bit different” – works that perhaps cannot be traced back to a clear taxonomic identity.

Dark Taxa is also a culmination of her work from a residency with JPE Design Studio, facilitated as part of an ongoing partnership between JPE and Guildhouse. While Kelly has previously been known predominately for her metalwork creations, the residency inspired her to introduce plaster as a new material in her practice.

“The material dictates how my piece turns out.

“I guess I’m taking the pressure off myself by letting the material work a little bit for me, especially if it’s new material where you’re not really 100 per cent sure about how it’s going to turn out. But plaster has been a challenge in this weather, because it takes so long to dry.”

Then she found a creative solution.

“When we had the nice warm days, I had some of these plasters on the dashboard on my car because that was the warmest place. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a good spot!’” she says, laughing. “During the day I had my stuff in my car; at night I had it in my oven.”

Artist Michelle Kelly

Working with plaster comes with challenges. Photo: Jack Fenby

Alongside the plaster, Kelly is also using gyprock, another material inspired by her time at JPE.

“Recently, I had to gyprock the ceiling,” she says, pointing up in her studio and explaining how the DIY project led her to discovering how light the material was and incorporating it in her plater fungi.

“I wanted to make it so that the fungi were kind of growing out of the wall. So, I thought, Well, these are all wall materials – gyprock and plaster.”

The song “5 Years Time” by British band Noah and the Whale comes through the speaker in the studio, providing a fitting segue for a discussion about what Kelly plans to do next.

“I feel like I’ve used this residency as something to refine my skills and my work, see how other people work and come up with ideas, and go forward and build on this with other stuff,” she says.

“And now I’ll be able to gyprock the cracks in my walls.”

Artist Michelle Kelly

Michelle Kelly at work in her studio. Photo: Jack Fenby

Michelle Kelly’s exhibition Dark Taxa is showing at JPE Design Studio, 4/19 Gilles Street, until October 31 as part of the 2023 SALA Festival. Read more about the artist and her work on her website.

In the Studio is a regular series presented by InReview in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Guildhouse. The series shares interesting stories about South Australian visual artists, craftspeople and designers, offering insight into their artistic practices and a behind-the-scenes look at their studios or work spaces. Read our previous stories here.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

InReview is an open access, non-profit arts and culture journalism project. Readers can support our work with a donation. Subscribe to InReview’s free weekly newsletter here.

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