Many years ago there was a cute little homewares store in Cammeray called The Ginger Jar. Whenever my mother visited from Brisbane we would head out to a different area and visit all the shops. One such time, we stumbled upon The Ginger Jar and I fell instantly in love with an artwork by Robyn Kennedy. I had never seen anything like it before and it was made from gorgeous Asian textiles. I just knew the artwork would be a great addition to my collection of Asian furniture and decorator pieces that we had collected during our three years living in Hong Kong. So I bought it!
A few years later, I came across Robyn’s name again and visited her solo exhibition in Woollahra. Mum was down from Brisbane and we were both in awe of Robyn’s exquisite pieces. So much work involved in every single piece! Since then I’ve kept in touch with Robyn and am delighted that she has agreed to answer my questions on her life and art. I hope you enjoy this interview.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to the beautiful textile artworks you create?
For many years I’ve had an interest in interior design and the decorative arts. In the early 90’s I worked for an interior design company as their CAD operator….I think quite good training for the intricate work I do now!
The samples library the designers used for selecting materials and finishes for their projects was well overdue for a major cleanup and luckily I worked that weekend! As the designers added to the pile of “rubbish” I promptly removed pieces that I found attractive, particularly the textiles and timber veneers. I couldn’t believe all the gorgeous materials that, once admired, were now destined for the tip as “discontinued stock”. I knew that if I could, I would create something beautiful with them, to let them live on and be admired once again.
The next few years saw a flurry of creativity coming from my dining room – hours spent experimenting with different techniques mixing textiles, papers, photographs and timber veneers with beautiful found objects from nature, and then weaving metallic thread and other embellishments into the work. All of these pieces were “miniature art” and perfect for the then very popular handmade card market, when cards were not only a beautiful message but also a gift to frame.
After returning from a year overseas I was keen to get creative again, but on a much larger scale! The first larger works I created were two Japanese style Kimono figures made from antique pieces of Indian textiles (collected on my travels), contemporary textiles, gold leaf and metallic thread…they were very gorgeous, aged in appearance and they caught the light beautifully. This style of work developed over time into a series of exotic women, inspired by the women and textiles from Japan, China, Africa, Turkey and Uzbekistan. This was the starting point for my life as an artist – that was 1998.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The obvious and most immediate inspiration usually comes to me from a piece of fabric I particularly love, and more recently photographs I’ve taken on my travels. However, I do find inspiration everywhere – flowers, butterfly wings, exotic birds, sea shells, rock pools, autumn leaves, light, shadows, reflections, expressions of love, dreams, the female form, fashion, jewelry, art, architecture, interiors, Japanese style….and heaps more!
You use gorgeous textiles in your artworks, where do you find them?
As mentioned earlier, the start of my collection was in the early 90’s with textiles from the Interior Design industry. I found that many of the large fabric wholesalers were keen to give away boxes and boxes of old textiles – heaven!
I’ve also discovered the beauty in antique hand stitched textiles from India (Rajasthan wedding gowns), Turkey and Uzbekistan. Travelling to these countries is not so frequent, so I make sure I buy plenty whenever I’m there.
Can you briefly explain your design process?
In general it’s quite a spontaneous process which starts with a gorgeous piece of textile or more recently a photograph. I try to visualize what would enhance this “feature piece, the focal point”. I’m thinking colour, pattern, texture, what shapes I’m going to use, will I introduce sheer fabrics and the like. Having selected the materials I then build the image layer by layer using acid free adhesives. Finally I apply all the embellishments – I particularly love this part of the process as this is when it all comes together and it starts to sparkle and speak to me!
Do you have an all time favourite piece that you have created?
It’s always the piece I’m working on, although a number of the works pictured are my favourites.
Is there an artist (or artists) that you love right now?
What’s next for Robyn Kennedy?
Although the ‘exotic women’ series are still very popular, I do enjoy experimenting with many other styles and techniques. In my most recent exhibition, I introduced photographic collage using photographs from my travels which were overlaid with sheer textiles and embellishments. I plan to explore the ‘photographic collage’ in more detail, seeing what I can create in a smaller format using photography, textiles and papers…. and of course intricate detail. My next solo exhibition (date still to be decided) will be a series of small works.
In March 2013 I will be exhibiting at the Balmain Watchhouse with 2 good friends, Karen Visser who captures beautiful imagery through photography and Grazyna Wollman who creates the most amazing kaleidoscope of gorgeous patterns and colors. My works in this exhibition will be current and past works, so it’s a good opportunity to see the development of my art over a number of years.
If you are interested in embarking on a journey of textile art, Robyn runs workshops at her home in Sydney. Contact Robyn for more details.