Threads, QAGOMA 2020
Madeleine Kelly is an Australian painter living and working from Woolongong Australia.
Madeleine Kelly, Painter, Artist,
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Threads, QAGOMA 2020

This exhibition provided insight into Madeleine Kelly: Open Studio by presenting an ecology of art, threads, and life. It explored the idea of weaving what we see with what we know and dream. The images wove disparate ideas together and entwined formations of webs, wombs, and patterns to remind us that many species form a fabric with a key material thread. This interconnection is crucial, showing how the liveliness of artwork can extend to that of the living planet.

— Madeleine Kelly

Threads 2020 Installation shot Queensland Art Gallery (10 October 2020 – 31 January 2021) Photograph: Chloe Callistemon

Threads were among the earliest transmitters of meaning’, said Bauhaus artist Anni Albers. In these prints Albers conjoins graphic images with those of Andean textile design. The lines are enlivened through colour and interchanging rhythm. Albers dedicated her book On Weaving (1965) to the weavers of ancient Peru

Untitled 1948 (from ‘Connections 1925–83’ portfolio) 1984 / Screenprint on 150 gram Umbria paper / 45 x 35cm / Purchased 1990


With verticals 1946 (from ‘Connections 1925–83’ portfolio) 1984 / Screenprint on paper / 49 x 38.6cm / Purchased 1990


Smyrna – knupfteppich (Bauhaus period) 1925 (from ‘Connections 1925–83’ portfolio) 1984 / Screenprint on 150 gram Umbria paper /


51 x 38.5cm / Purchased 1990 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/ARS/Copyright Agency, 2020

The long and pointed beak of this bird suggests it is a hummingbird. In this work we see an interlacing of temporal and spatial dimensions. In the pre-Columbian world, the bird was vested with supernatural features and represented the sky, nighttime, war and darkness. The Nasca culture believed that animals inhabit a parallel world and exert influence over human life. Today such a belief system would certainly keep humanity in check. The synthetic character of the bird is a result of it being forced to remain within the bounds of the rectilinear structure formed by the intersection of the warp and the weft.

Unknown / Peru / Textile: Honeyeaters date unknown / Wool and acrylic blend / 40 x 30cm / Collection: Madeleine Kelly

This textile, courtesy of the ‘Good Shepard Trading Circle’, Brisbane, was woven by women working for the organisation ‘Creation Agustina Rivas, for the promotion and capacitation of the woman Kcauri – Cusco Peru’. It contains a compositional logic whereby inversions, oppositions and reversals of the same symbols create a kind of syntax, pattern and typological imagery. Image and written language appear to conflate.

Creation Agustina Rivas / Peru / Textile: Abstract date unknown / Wool and acrylic blend / 40 x 34cm / Collection: Madeleine Kelly

This pot from New Mexico features prehistoric bird design patterns composed of abstract wing and feather motifs that have been passed down through generations. In many cultures, textile designs were often transferred to the surface of ceramic vessels where they retained their abstract appearance.

Hopi Pueblo / United States / Pot c.1900–50 / Hand-built white earthenware body of squat flaring shape decorated in brown and rusts with an abstract design / 11.5 x 22cm (diam.) / Acquired pre 1977 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

In the pre-Columbian world the sky, earth and underground were represented by the bird, the feline and the snake. The Feline symbolizes might.

Unknown / Peru / Pot: (seed carrier) 1400s / Terracotta earthenware clay hand built and carved with burnished finish / 15.5 x 14 x 11cm / Gift of Mrs Lillian Bosch 1975 /  Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Window Bandit is based on a photograph of a potter wasp trying to escape through my studio window, battling its reflection. These wasps, which are in the family Vespidae, build mud pot nests.

Madeleine Kelly / Australia b.1977 / Window bandit 2019 / Oil on canvas / 71 x 51 cm /  Collection: Madeleine Kelly / © Madeleine Teresa Kelly/Copyright Agency, 2020 / Courtesy: Madeleine Kelly and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Circles and lines enliven many of these works. They contain structural affinities between formal radiation and the sun. The sun’s energy exists and transforms across any distance and time, illuminating and providing photons vital to plant growth. 

As if yearning for enlightenment, three lamps gather together in deep thought. Bodily connotations ride on domestic ones. Their bent necks and peering eyes suggest they are oculate beings. Though the lamps can in no way see, they express the paradoxical coincidence that the sun, emitter of light, appears as the eye, receiver of light. 

John Brack / Australia 1920–99 / The sun lamps 1966 / Etching on wove paper / 32.7 x 39.6cm / Purchased 1967 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Helen Brack

The cross-contour lines in Ay-O’s ‘Finger Box’ were inspired by looking through a prism. Like a spider that spins its web, a figure pulls coloured thread from its womb, perhaps to create coloured copies of itself, or further spin its landscape. One might go so far as to say the work illustrates the idea that the matter of the womb is derived from the maternal-feminine, the word ‘matter’ itself attaining meaning from the word ‘maternal’. This work is poignant as it points to the politics of reproduction that recognises the multiple dimensions of human life

Ay-O / Japan b.1931 / Finger box (from ‘Rainbow landscape’ series) 1974 / Screenprint on paper / 65.5 x 51.1cm / Purchased 1995. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

The form of a black radiating sun throws beams over a spindly landscape of filaments. Petal-like forms wilt towards a group of biomorphic frenzied figures. Without walls or borders, their figures metamorphosise or diffuse into their grounds. The picture shows forms living in kinship differently from that which we presently see, suggesting a world beyond the myopia of the individual body.

Joan Miró / Spain 1893–1983 / (Untitled) (from ‘Noire et rouge’ series) 1938 / Drypoint on Arches paper / 17 x 25.7cm / Purchased 1996. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Successió Miró/ADAGP Magritte, Miró, Chagall/Copyright Agency, 2020

This sundew’s tiny arms explode like fireworks and terminate in sticky filaments; numerous mini replicas of each other. Hall’s work draws attention to structural affinities between the micro and the macro.

Fiona Hall / Australia b.1953 / Sundew (from ‘Insectivorous’ series) 2006 / Etching and chine collé on Hahnemühle 350gsm paper / 25 x 33cm / Purchased 2007. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Fiona Hall

The legs of a half translucent figure seem to float before the surface of a pool. This work, made during my third year of study at the Queensland College of Art, was somewhat inspired by the evocative, existential presence of Madonna Staunton’s work made from clothing. I initially learned of Donna’s work through an exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. Later I was lucky to work with her in her home studio at Bennett Road, The Gap, where I grew up.

Madeleine Kelly / Australia b.1977 / Eclipse 1999 / Oil on canvas / 90cm x 61cm / Collection: Madeleine Kelly / © Madeleine Teresa Kelly/Copyright Agency, 2020 / Courtesy: Madeleine Kelly and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

‘What is left over after the business of living is what interests me’, said Donna Staunton. Donna’s aim was to enliven what she called ‘inert matter’. Here the clothing’s material appears tactile but also doubles as a kind of psychological skin. The red thread of life recalls a bloodline—an unravelling of what it means to be human.

Madonna Staunton / Australia 1938–2019 / Cloth, needle, cotton 1995 / Paint, steel, yarn and cotton on paper / 89 x 64.5cm / Purchased 1996. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Estate  of Madonna Staunton 

My book Forms of Agency 2017 played on on a timed loop in the gallery space.  The first half of the book features images of the women who worked at the Leipzig Cotton Mill during the GDR juxtaposed beside images of Peruvian textiles and art I have photographed while doing the rounds of galleries around the world. The second half features a work I produced during a residency at the Leipzig International Art Program, 2016. When researching the history of the Leipzig Spinnerei’s cotton production and the role of the women who worked in the mill, I was drawn to experimenting with woven fabrics. I made a series of 18 frottages of kitchen stoves on wool, cotton and nylon. Each image appears as a 1:1 blueprint or diagram and corresponds to our corporeal expectations. As a collection, they resemble skins, eyes and breasts, and also appear as human bodies. Their rather rigid typology suggests a canon of allowable forms to which our bodies are forced to conform, as well as the labour of the female body – as domestic, ruled and sexual.

Madeleine Kelly, Forms of Agency, Publisher: BOOK MACHINE (Sydney) II, a temporary publishing house organised by onestar press (Paris) and set up at VOLUME 2017 | Another Art Book Fair on October 14, 2017, powered by Artspace Sydney.