Thursday, 19 May 2011

Studio visit + interview: Kirsten Perry

This week, meet Kirsten Perry, the maker behind our 'Product of the Month'! Based in Melbourne, Kirsten comes from a wonderful and varied background including industrial design, multimedia and gold & silversmithing, which has given her a wealth of skills and influences to mine from. True enough, Kirsten has produced collections of work in a variety of mediums, using metal, paper-mache, clay, illustration, painting, and glazing,

In addition to maintaining an independent artistic practice, Kirsten currently teaches multimedia at both Swinburne and Kangan TAFE. Anthropomorphism and character design feature heavily in her work, and the small scale of her production work allows her to explore variations of similar concepts.

Kirsten also has a great blog titled Repugnant Charm, which is her own words is "suggestive of the major theme in her work, the interplay between the ugly and attractive, celebrating the beauty in an ugly object and diminishing the charm of something beautiful."

After having cancer eleven years ago, Perry became interested in the healing powers of meditation and visualization. She investigated forms of spirituality and became fascinated with tribal totems and masks.

This research led her to a new appreciation of the sentimental qualities carried by jewellery, and since then her practice has expanded to include larger objects.

Before we go on any further, let us now focus our attention on this month's star product: a pair of porcelain brain earrings by Kirsten Perry (pictured below). These earrings are priced at $44 and are currently available both in-store and through our online shop. Think of all the wonderful puns you could make while wearing these earrings! (Let's start you off with one: 'Two brains are better one')

Without further ado, please enjoy the following feature on Kirsten's work!

Please tell us more about yourself and how you arrived at where you are today! How was your background in multimedia and industrial design as well influenced/impacted upon your jewellery and art practice?

In school I was good at maths and science and loved art. One of my teachers encouraged me to study Industrial Design as I could use all my skills. At the time I found the engineering side quite dry and wanted to study Fine Art, which I went on to do straight after I finished my degree. Industrial Design was a fantastic learning curve and the skills and knowledge I learnt back then, I apply to my current practice. The knowledge and application of materials and the manufacturing process still hold a fascination for me to this day. I am always curious as to how things are made whether it is jewellery, sculpture, furniture, painting, animation, cooking or graphic design.

Stepping into the craft arena when I studied Fine Art Gold & Silversmithing was another world again. I remember thinking for one of my first projects, why am I hammering a piece of sheet copper for 4 hours to make a tiny bowl? In industry you use a press mould to stamp them out in 5 seconds! I soon came around to the practice of making and fell in love with the materials and tools. Being able to apply my creativity in a Fine Art practice seemed really self indulgent but I am so grateful to have had the experience and to have met all the wonderful people that I did. One of my class mates, Makiko asked me to come live in Japan after we finished where we could try and set up a studio while working at her Father's company.

I loved Japan in so many regards, the people, food, aesthetics, culture, craft and art. I was there almost a year and found a lump in my neck that turned out to be cancer. I came home, focused on my health and lost the motivation to create for quite some time combined with not wanting to use any more toxic materials. In my last year of Gold & Silversmithing at RMIT, I used lots of two part plastics which are highly carcinogenic.

After a while I decided I wanted to get a job in design but needed computer skills. I went back to RMIT to study Multimedia and fell in love with animation and character design. From there I went on to start my own business. I designed and manufactured products such as toys, cards and socks, some more successfully than others. I started to make jewellery again by using wax carving, metal casting and ceramics, as they are non toxic processes. I was entering my animations into online competitions with some success and soon started teaching animation at Swinburne. Currently I teach graphic design, animation and illustration at Kangan and Swinburne Tafe. I love it and it gives me time to continue my own practice.

Oh and how did you find Japan?

As I mentioned before, my friend Maki asked me to go live in Japan. I loved that character design was everywhere and that cute was embraced by all. It felt like one big, crowded playground, that could be a bit exhausting and stressful at times, especially when you don’t know the language that well. The people are incredibly considerate. I am about to go back there in July for a short visit.

Could you please describe to us what your studio space is like? What are some things/habits that you can’t do without?

Sadly I am about to leave my current studio space, which is a well lit, tiled room at the back of the house. I love working from home but sometimes think having other creative people around would be good too. I have a work table with my tools and other junk scattered around. It’s very messy. There are some drawers that hold my paints, jewellery moulds, fabrics, cards. On the floor is my polishing wheel, a big bag of plaster, scraps of cardboard and my plaster moulds. I usually have a plant and some inspiring pics on the wall. I’m going to be housesitting for a while before I get my own place so I’ll have to take the essentials; files, emery paper, ring mandrel, hammer, pliers, dental tools, plaster, select moulds, clay, paintbrushes, paints and my computer. Does anyone know of a studio space?

You’ve got quite a range of products in your repertoire... what’s your favourite work in your product range/exhibition practice and what’s the story behind it?

My favorite work at the moment would be my silver locket. Jewellery has the ability to hold such powerful sentiment. I was heartbroken after I lost my Grandmas’s gold Mizpah locket that Grandpa gave to her during the war. I have been trying to do my own version and when it is worn close to my heart, I feel it tends to build sentiment as time goes on. Like our relationship is becoming closer.

Brass lockets, before and after polishing

The objects you create are quite tactile and often bear strong evidence of process and a thoughtful hand. In an interview with Robert Lukins, we read that one of the works Look into my eyes for your solo show N-N-Nervous at NO NO Gallery was remade 15 times before working out! At what point do you decide that you have to succeed and vice versa? Could you please tell us more about how you approach ‘process’ in your practice?

The piece called Look into my eyes (pictured below) was technically very difficult to make. The mould had 3 cavities and when the clay shrinks 10%, tends to crack. The temperature has to be right and your timing, perfect. Then try transporting it to the Northcote Pottery without it cracking. I really enjoy problem solving.

I am inspired by stuff on the street, an image I have seen, a sentence I have overheard, an insight during meditation or some music I listen to. My initial ideas come into my mind, are given much thought, then I quickly sketch them down. They are then made quite quickly by whichever means available but always with a technical process in mind. Some I make up as I go along with just a vague feeling of how I would like them to look. I like to include spontaneity in my work and mistakes take me in new directions. I feel more of my personality is coming through in my work. I no longer am interested or can be bothered trying to hide my faults and instead try to make them feel comfortable in the light. At the moment I am interested in exploring new textures.

[CLOG: to read more about Kirsten's solo exhibition N-N-Nervous, read this review by Ace Wagstaff]

The beginnings of Look into my eyes

Look into my eyes (finished)

How do you differentiate between your production work and exhibition practice financially and conceptually? Do you see the two as quite separate, or perhaps as something more symbiotic?

I enjoy both sides and there is a cross over as one inspires the other. Production allows for my work to be accessible to a broader audience without any elitist crap. Exhibition work allows me to explore the more ‘out there’ ideas and not to be too heavily concerned with production. I would rather it be a true, uncompromised expression. It excites me to think of what I can do next…

What other skills would you like to learn?

I would love to know or have the patience to learn oil painting or to have a studio big enough to do really big stuff with paints, sculpture and wood. I am slowly building my confidence to try larger stuff. I would like to make life size weird characters. Dreamweaver has always baffled me.

Footless seagulls and some seagull feet

Speaking of skills, how do you make something out of nothing?

Look for junk around the house or hard rubbish. Take a look at some primitive art and see what is possible. Live minimally and see what is useful. Develop a discerning eye. Maybe?

various plaster moulds

tracksuit pants mould

What would your dream collaboration entail? Who would you like to collaborate with and why?

I would love to work on a kids conceptual TV series where we used art to develop kids creativity. It would be totally weird and out there, so as to appeal to adults as well. I’d like artists and musicians that push boundaries to be involved. I would like each show to have a theme such as sneezes, headbands, kindness etc. I would like kooky dancing and weird suits to be involved. I imagine getting kids to interview contemporary artists….

studio details - check out the dental tools in the image on the right!

How do you keep motivated? Who are some artists and fellow makers who have been an inspiration?

Teaching design at Tafe keeps me motivated and inspired. Junk stores, kitten pictures, pot plants and blogs rock.

Oh I love artists like David Shrigley, Brendan Huntley, Olaf Breuning, David Neale, Karl Fritsch, Jon Pylypchuk, Keith Schofield, Amanda Marburg, Rob McHaffie, Dana Schutz, Phyllis Galembo, spiritual iconography, Papua New Guinean art and my nephew Harry.

Inspiration: cup and paintings by Rob McHaffie

Brendan Huntley ceramic sculpture

Inspiration: Michael Perry (not related) Hand Job book, seal from an op shop

Thanks again Kirsten! Remember to check out Kirsten's blog here.

All photos courtesy of Kirsten Perry

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