The talented artist and DJ, who counts Sienna Miller as a fan, discusses how her love of art has evolved and the inspiration for her new exhibition at Dublin’s Studio 10 …
Blue Moon Forest
When did your interest in art begin?
I can’t remember not painting. I was encouraged by an art-loving mother from when I was very small, she brought me to museums and exhibitions. It was an escape, a portal into a world of imagination and magic that I loved as a young child… That wonder has never left me. I played and painted on my own a lot but that developed a robust, impenetrable imaginary realm, a trance-like world which I still draw on today. I remember we had placemats at home with Gainsborough paintings on them, I was three or four, and mine had The Cottage Girl. The joy of seeing the real thing in The National Gallery! But the first exhibition I really remember blowing me away was a Turner exhibition in London. I saw Fighting Temeraire and Sunset and started to cry; the scale was so big and obviously looked completely different from the books I had poured over. I won a state art competition at ten, and I think I wanted to be an artist after that.
I studied fine art painting at DIT Portland Row, Dublin, under the excellent tutelage of Paddy Graham. The college had a stellar teaching alumni at the time with Patricia Hurl, Anna MacLeod, and Anita Groener, among others.
How and where do you work?
My work often begins with a loose interpretation of a thought, memory, or atmosphere. I work in quite an intuitive, loose manner initially, often preserving a particular mood in my mind. Then I support this with images of specific details to ground the paintings using photographs and sketches as reference points.
I collect interesting images on my phone, but it’s really the memory that helps capture the mood, the atmosphere. That’s what I’m trying to encapsulate and convey – a feeling, an atmosphere, a communication described in paint on canvas.
I have a home studio that suits my nocturnal habits. I have daylight balanced lighting but I make a point to complete each painting in natural daylight. This way, I work on every piece under various lighting conditions, allowing me to understand how it appears from all angles and in different settings, which is particularly important when using gold/silver leaf. We’re also close to the beach which has worked its way into my work.
What was the starting point of your new exhibition “Áilleacht Na hOíche: Night Beauty” at Studio 10?
I hate to mention the dreaded lockdown, but for artists or at least for me, it was an opportunity to just paint, with no particular deadline. It was a dual experience, liberating but shadowed with anxiety.
The work delves into feelings of isolation, grief, and the ways in which we rely on memory to navigate the passing of time. These memories may decay, vitality may be fleeting, but etched deep within our minds lie vistas that are uniquely ours. These vistas, often romanticised and abstracted into wonders, serve as our lifeline to love and life.
This collection signifies and charts the process of reabsorption and connection with our immediate surroundings, appreciation of all forms of nature, and eventual coming back to life, social events, and the ultimate strangeness of that after isolation.
How do you describe your art and how has it evolved?
My artistic style is mainly figurative, but embraces abstracted elements that blur the boundaries of reality. They are rooted in urban realism, drawing inspiration from our nocturnal behaviours. There’s something about twilight that truly captivates me, especially the mysterious dimensions and shadow play it unveils. Using gold and silver leaf goes some way towards expressing this feeling of saturated luminescence. I work in mixed media, charcoal, watercolour, acrylic, oil, pastel, and use incandescent precious metal hues. Themes of time, history, memory, remnants, and imprints are central to my work, often intertwined with elements of folklore, childhood, and myth. I like the notion of a gossamer screen between our world and the unseen.
Purple Twilight Triptych
Music is clearly integral to your life – what is on your ideal playlist?
I’m obsessed with music and I feel DJing is an important counterbalance for me to the isolation of creating in the studio as an artist. I share this passion with my husband, Mark, who is a composer and musician.
There’s music of all forms in our house, from classical, opera, trad, and jazz to indie, rock, and dance. I have an inability to tune music out, even if it’s terrible! I come out of the supermarket unconsciously singing the muzak. I’m wired to music, very sensitive to it, so I have to exercise caution.
My vinyl DJ decks are in my painting studio along with my phone so there’s always music playing. I tend to double-job and listen to new releases while sketching out and working on composition and ideas but to be honest, once the painting starts properly, it’s complete silence, especially when I’m trying to get something out. Once I’m satisfied, the music may go back on but curated to the work, music I know the emotion of, nothing to break the spell or be too distracting or interesting, or my mind will always go to the music.
You have many high-profile fans such as Sienna Miller and have exhibited at international galleries – what has been a career high point for you?
I’ve been very fortunate with where my art has found appreciation. Having my work chosen to be displayed on Time Square’s largest billboard as part of an international exhibition was thrilling. But a real high point and culmination of the things I love (books, literature, poetry) and which so inspire me to paint, was having the award-winning author, Dr Rosaleen McDonagh, use my painting “Sequestered Nook” as the cover art for her book Unsettled, published by the wonderful Skein Press. That painting was in itself inspired by the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quote: “The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, And all the sweet serenity of books.” So, it felt like a real full-circle moment for me.
Need to Know: Mo Kelly’s exhibition “Áilleacht Na hOíche: Night Beauty” opens at Studio 10, Wicklow Street, Dublin 2 on November 16. For further information on her art visit www.mokelly.com.