Interview: Kellyann Marie Irene
Updated: Apr 17
I first met Kellyann in the summer of 2021 at a natural dye workshop put on by Brenda Stratton at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University. Since then I've seen her work in a multitude of media: textiles, ceramics, wood, painting, drawing and more. It's spring 2023, but since completing her Masters in winter of 2022, she's already biked through Europe and exhibited a solo show titled "My Gramma had wood panelling - that too is a relationship to god" at Galerie Sans Nom in New Brunswick. Here's our interview via email correspondence:
You write that "living is art when you are a poor person because it employs all the creativity in a body to make the things one needs." I've seen your tailored or custom-made clothes, handmade dishes, and your deck of cards and they all tie into this notion really well. Can you talk more about this?
I guess I think about my grandmother a lot in that sentiment (so much of what I do is directly linked to me time with her in this life). I came to her once sobbing because I was getting very teased at school for how poor I was. My grandma to this news treated it like a solvable problem through thriftiness and handmade. She taught me how to find quality things at the thrift or handed down and how to tailor them. I had already been making my own toys for years and I had yet to move up to making “art” but it was all leading up to that.
More than just my ability to bend the perception of being impoverished through my handmade- I think the idea “living is art as a poor person” is more my acknowledgement of a supple way I’ve had to adopt to move through this life of poverty. I often say “I have to make this work because ain’t nobody comin’ for me”- the ongoing creativity to pay bills, to find ways of being on equal footing with others around me. The idea that to mask the reality of having less, I can always be (do, make) more.
The life of poverty I come from is one of concrete buildings and poured slab floors- a drabness that calls for a touch of handmade on everything.
Speaking of cards, you bring up cartomancy on your website. How do you bring this to the everyday?
Cartomancy is so fascinating- let me just say that first. I genuinely believe everything is always right on schedule- I am right now where I should be just like you are. I say that because the card game is such a large portion of my social knitting (which through my poverty and lack of support I build pockets of community however and where ever). Card games are just an ongoing tarot reading if you let them. « Why right now at the cusp of my life would I get all the queens » giving way to « sometimes life is a 2 ».
What role does poetry and literature play in your visual art?
It’s weird because I’m not sure if I come off this way or if I’m perceived by others in this quality but I read between 2-5 books a month every month since I was a teenager. Sometimes I relish this, sometimes it just fills a slot in my day (I’m a tragically early riser and reading is a quiet morning activity while others sleep). There are some books that I’m actively illustrating in all my works - Jitterbug Perfume is the source of some of my most pervasive imagery, and there are others that are other perceived in spirit- Building thatandthis in to Thus, the title of myself and Ernie Rennick’s exhibition is an excerpt from an e.e Cummings poem “my love is building a building” that I’ve mulled over for about a decade.
Maya Angelou taught me to illustrate myself in my fullness if I ever hope to love myself and be loved that way- it’s “I know why the caged bird sings” that gives me confidence that my story (like all stories) is sacred in its smallness as much as it’s largeness.
I think as I unfold myself over and over again I’m realizing literature comes first and it’s contextualizing myself in those words that then becomes the work I make (am I just rewriting all the books I’ve read?)
Can you elaborate on "recording yourself like an anthropologist" in your visual journals?
I’ve always been a sketchbook person, but it was biking across the United States when I was 22 that really saw me first make an accordion book (a beat up thing with poorly folded pages). In that book I got in the habit of thinking of time as a meadow not a highway. That all events of a day of biking across Kansas or Texas or eventually Spain, would eventually flatten out one in to the other. To record myself in a free form way (thoughts and writings shaking hands with doodles of landscapes and breakfast) kind of makes for these books that open fully and present not just the events in accuracies but the mood. My book of biking from Florida to Montreal has free page space and bright greens and yellows- the book of biking back after having fallen in love and beginning to live out my Canadian dual citizenship is dripping in the pink and busy-ness of just that. I’m recording myself. I can see me in snapshots and eras and share myself that way with others.
I think it was Stephanie Shepard in a seemingly innocuous Instagram comment that said « I have to know the Kellyann lore ». Well shit, me too so I have to write it all down. The transient life isn’t one well recorded even in my own memory.
Your website is an unpredictable and non-linear journey and a work of art itself. How did you make it? Was there a plan or an intuitive process or...?
I knew for my website (and just arts writing in general) that I wanted to weave together all the things that shape a personal creative process. So much of my thoughts and my work is based in listening to music so I had to find a way to feature that. So much of my creative process is about finding my way and letting that be what it has to, so I had to remove the linear progression of a written work and open it up to the meandering that I find myself in. So much is finding a way to talk through the idea of a mountain on a mug/book/print/painting/photo/bicycle so separating those mediums would never work. I had to talk about the mountain itself and let that lead way to all the manifestations of it. The website was to share my process in the way I’m actually living it rather than a sterile presentation of me as an artist. I really wanted to let people slip in to me as deep or as shallow as they wanted to go.
How does it feel as an artist in Western Newfoundland via Florida and Montréal?
I suppose as my life keeps going on the path that made me be Florida / Montreal / Newfoundland. I’m a little realizing I’m not FROM any of those places or from anywhere really. This is because of the fractured nature of my family, the bounds on me in poverty, and the freedom of having nobody accountable to me and vice versa. In this way there’s some freedom to live everywhere I end up, as if I owe it the whole world and also nothing, for the time I spend there.
It feels like I carry home on my back and I’m building some in everyone I meet.
Anything else you'd like to share about your practice and what your plans are for the coming year?
This year I’m vagabonding- I biked across Europe and that was a really big thing for me. I put myself out there and really believed I was allowed to simply exist in the world- and to my surprise I was. So vagabond it is. This year I just want to paint/sew/make lovely things and hope for the best. I think my next move with show itself to me just like it always does, and I’m just happy to be along for the ride.
How to find Kellyann online: Website:
personal: @_kellyannmarie painting: @kellyann.marie.irene