‘Madeleine Kelly’s expansive art practice examines the complex exchange between nature and culture. Her work is layered with references to her garden and the natural world, the history of art and mythology, and the role of the intuitive and subliminal in the creative process.
For The National 4, Kelly has created a new collection of paintings and porcelain sculptures that draw from her ongoing interest in nature’s cycles of destruction and regeneration. These sensory compositions suggest a web that supports a world we cannot see, a mysterious portal into a place where art is the explanation of language, signs and logical systems, and nature is the home for geometry, chemistry and physics.
Ever-present in Kelly’s art is the rumbling of modernity – the mechanical disruption of natural order and balance elicited by our extraction and depletion of the environment’ (Beatrice Gralton, curator, The National 4, the Art Gallery of NSW).
‘Pelican analogues (2023) is similarly inspired by Kelly’s time in Ravenna, borrowing the form of a helix that appeared in many of the Byzantine mosaics. Within this spiralling framework Kelly depicts a human figure embracing pelican alongside abstracted nasturtium leaves. The intertwining bodies undergo an alchemical transformation, assuming elements of the others’ form while they float against a backdrop of eddying currents and visceral layers’ (Tai Spruyt, The National 4 catalogue essay).
In ‘Middle-earth’ 2023, five die cast moulds for metal fittings manufacturing hang mid-air. Their function is inverted, the very idea of piping systems, unions, couplings, crossings, nipples or plugs is reversed; instead of connecting, the recto and verso of each panel face out in opposition. Forms associated with industrial power are invested with a libidinal energy where there is no chance of industrial progress. Their textured surfaces recall early forms of language such as ideographs, and hieroglyphs, some as if from an old world, where tokens functioned as word signs (Madeleine Kelly, artist statement).
In ‘Formless forms’ (2022), earthworms wriggle across the surface as painterly gestures. One worm slips behind a stripe and another around the edge of the frame. A single passage of paint was enough to embody their indeterminate forms. For Dionysius the Areopagite, the earthworm was the closest representation of God, a ‘formless form’ that moves in and out of itself, and just as Dionysius was a shapeshifter, these humble Wollongong worms point beyond figurative representation to the formless world of the spiritual, the earth behind the painting (Madeleine Kelly, artist statement).
Like a computer circuit board, the figure’s punched-out face resembles a loom, and her sculpted hair and thorax-neck give her a cyborg compatibility.