Inked in Memory
Artist: Kelly-Anne Love
Words by Jessica Gledhill
I recently visited Central Coast artist Kelly-Anne Love in the lead up to her first solo exhibition, Australiana Tattoo Series which opened in March, at PROJECT 504, North Sydney.
Kelly-Anne’s early life was in Kurrajong, a small country town in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Nowadays Kurrajong is a popular tourist location, known for its scenery, boutique shopping and charming B&Bs. Kelly-Anne fondly remembers a small country town with tyre swans, stubbies and laconic characters. Kelly-Anne and her siblings spent their days outdoors, tearing around on bikes, chasing chooks and swimming in the dam. The family home was a no-frills fibro cottage complete with a patio clad in a 60s favourite, green fibreglass corro. A permanent fixture of the patio was Kelly-Anne’s grandfather, Norman Kennedy.
Norman served in the Irish Navy during World War II and, like any self-respecting sailor of the time, was tattooed and smoked a pipe. Describing her grandfather as a real-life Popeye, Kelly-Anne recalls how she and her siblings would pester him relentlessly to reveal a risqué tattoo of a nude woman on his arm, the reveal never failing to deliver uncontrollable giggles.
In quieter moments, Kelly-Anne would trace over her grandfather’s tattoos with curious fingers, asking about their meaning. Her grandfather rarely spoke about his past however, and many aspects of his life and the stories behind his tattoos remain a mystery to her.
Kelly-Anne was always drawing and making things as a child, encouraged by her mother who enrolled Kelly-Anne in everything from wood carving to clown classes during school holidays. When Kelly-Anne was six years old her family relocated to England and the United States for a decade, before returning to Australia when she was a teenager. Changing schools often, Kelly-Anne remembers being “the new kid with the weird accent”, easily making new friends but also knowing she would have to leave them behind when the next move came. Kelly-Anne’s sense of belonging and cultural identity was shaped by the experiences of those formative years.
As a young adult Kelly-Anne travelled through Asia and North America, living in Los Angeles and India for several years. Throughout her travels Kelly-Anne kept a diary, sketching the places and people she encountered. One encounter made quite an impression. Kelly-Anne met her husband David, a professional surfer, while travelling and after a whirlwind romance they got engaged in Hawaii.
Happily married, Kelly-Anne started a family and became a full-time mother. Once the blur of round-the-clock nappy changing, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation passed, Kelly-Anne started to get the creative itch. Dusting off her father’s set of watercolours, what started as a hobby using whatever materials were at hand, rapidly developed into a fully-fledged arts practice. Becoming a mother had changed Kelly-Anne’s priorities and led to a watershed moment when she chose to fully commit to her arts practice. Reading between the lines, raising children seems to have been integral to Kelly-Anne drawing from her own childhood memories, as inspiration particularly for her latest series.
The Australiana Tattoo Series portrays icons, celebrities and sports people that Kelly-Anne sees as having shaped Australia’s cultural identity. The portraits both celebrate and poke fun at our popular culture in all its kitsch glory, with icons such as Ned Kelly, Dame Edna Everage and Shane Warne making appearances, heavily inked. Undoubtedly iconic, Ned, Edna and Warney are nevertheless far from perfect and that’s just the point Kelly-Anne is making with her tongue in cheek homage to the average Aussie battler.
Painted in watercolour and ink on paper, the portraits convey Kelly-Anne’s refreshingly unpretentious and direct style, which imbues her icons with quirk, charm and candidness. The portraits are visually dynamic and arresting, due partly to the skilful juxtaposition of materials and techniques. Graphic lines and flat blocks of colour in ink used to render the face, body and clothing of the subjects, contrasts with the softness and fluidity of their all-over watercolour tattooing.
The tattoos combine traditional naval imagery with imagery symbolic of each icon’s character traits or personal hardships. Kelly-Anne researched the lives of each icon fully, piecing together their personal narratives visually with tattoos. In much the same way, Kelly-Anne has pieced together her grandfather’s personal narrative, based upon her memories of him and flashbacks from childhood. By this very process Kelly-Anne is reconciling her own cultural identity and sense of belonging.
Enquiries about pieces in the Australiana Tattoo Series can be directed to
Ph: 0452 586 448
My love and passion is creating something from a blank page, it feels like magic to see how an artwork reveals itself. So I would love to see more people reconecting with organic artworks and placing them in there homes, offices or special places to be part of there daily life.Nothing makes me feel more accomplished then seeing people love something I have created buying it and feeling like they were ment to have it