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Radelaidians Doing Cool Shit #8: Elspeth McKellar


Radelaidians Doing Cool Shit #8: Elspeth McKellar

Erin Gear


We had the opportunity to have a chat with up-and-coming Radelaide artist Elspeth McKellar over the weekend about her art, and recent exhibition All the Colours of Blue. Her paintings are impressively life-like, and exude a warmth and soulfulness that is beyond her years. It’s no exaggeration to say that she was born to be an artist, because her talent is unbelievable. She is sure to join the Adelaide artists' hall of fame soon.  

 You’re obviously a very talented artist, who was your very first inspiration to pursue a career in art?

 I honestly never really considered it being a career path, it’s just something that I loved to do and it was so fundamentally part of who I was. I was more so inspired, reflecting back to when I was younger, by the world around me. I was so deeply fascinated by people and life, and the way that the world looks and the way that people feel things. Being able to capture that and put it on paper was just something that I loved doing. So it was more of a fascination with life than it was with anyone in particular.

Although, one of my biggest inspirations recently has been Joan of Arc. I know that sounds weird because she’s not exactly related to painting or art, but what I love about her is that she was so passionate and dedicated in her endeavours. That’s what I want for my career in art: absolute passion, absolute conviction and absolute dedication to what I’m doing. To go against the grain, and to risk everything to do what you believe in, is really the inspiration behind my artistic life. 

     Mama Carriage by  Elspeth McKellar


Mama Carriage by Elspeth McKellar

What does art represent to you?

It’s taken me a while to really understand what art is to me. Like I said, it was initially something I just took for granted. However I’ve come to realise that it’s not as simple as a career choice; it really is something that I couldn’t live without. It’s not just an activity, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of seeing, and it’s a perspective. More than anything it’s a way of seeing yourself and the world around you.

An important distinction for me is that I don’t separate the arts; so music, poetry, film, acting, and painting are all forms of communication and expression. It’s the human soul being poured out into something physical that everyone else can connect with if they so desire. So when you put a piece of art out there some people get it, and some people don’t. For the people who do, it’s a gift and it’s wonderful.

You quite recently had your first public art exhibition: All the Colours of Blue – a Jazz and Blues collection. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Yes, it was my first solo art exhibition and I found it really difficult. Obviously I’m working toward art being a full-time career, but at the moment it’s a bit hard to manage because as a first time artist you’ve got to make a living by other means – so I’ve still got a job that I have to maintain, and still have to do a bit of study. I can’t dedicate all of my time into my art at the moment, so I found it really challenging because it took me a really long time to put all the works together. At one point I even thought I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. The process is very much a love-hate relationship because it is hard work.

I had the exhibition at this beautiful blues bar, which was totally applicable to the Jazz and Blues theme I was going for. It was a great vibe, and I managed to create an atmosphere to celebrate the works that I’d done and give people an opportunity to see live art - because art on a computer screen is not nearly the same as it is in real life.

I called the exhibition All the Colours of Blue because there’s a song called ‘A Portrait of a Man’ by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, about painting in oils. One of the lyrics is ‘all the colours of blue’. The song is a self-portrait and what I love about it most, is that it's literal and metaphorical at the same time, which is exactly the approach I take with my paintings.

The idea behind the title All the Colours of Blue is that all my pieces were in black and white, so it was a little bit of a play on that. ‘Blue’ in the title was also supposed to be reminiscent of the colour being melancholic, but soulful; which jazz and blues music is reflective of. I just really wanted to capture and celebrate a few of my favourite musicians and hold them in a piece of my art. 

Robert Johnson by Elspeth McKellar for the  All The Colours of Blue  exhibition

Robert Johnson by Elspeth McKellar for the All The Colours of Blue exhibition

Are you working on anything currently? What can we expect from you in the future?

At the moment I’m taking on portrait commissions, I just love painting people. I see people in the streets all the time, beautiful people – but not in that typical ‘beautiful’ kind of way – that I want to paint because I can see beauty. Portraits are something that I’m so passionate about. So by doing portrait commissions at the moment, it’s business, but it’s also an opportunity to practice looking at someone and finding who they are and being able to put that into the painting. Unlike a photo, I sit there for hours and hours looking at this one person, refining my art, trying to capture something beyond the physical.

I totally intend to end up doing more than painting, even though it is the medium of my soul that I speak through. I’m really interested in how all the art forms can be combined by different artists collaboratively. I really look forward to being able to become an artist in the community, and being able to gel with other forms of artistry and artists to make amazing things together.  

As an artist, what would you say would be your ultimate ten-year goal? 

I think the most important thing for me as an artist is to gain the ability to paint with honesty, beauty and soul. I want to give people the feeling that good music gives, but with painting. I want to be able to tell a story with what I do. To me the most important thing about being an artist is not to ‘succeed’ in terms of monetary gain, but to be the best and most honest, passionate and soulful artist that you can be. I want to share my art with as many people as I can, and inspire and connect with as many people too. I want to make it widespread, I really want to go big with this.

John Coltrane by Elspeth McKellar for the  All The Colours of Blue  exhibition

John Coltrane by Elspeth McKellar for the All The Colours of Blue exhibition

What do you hope your art will add to the Radelaide art scene?

When it comes to Adelaide, it’s a small place with a tight network of people. Something that’s really cool about Adelaide is that it’s real easy to connect with people, at least within the art scene. I want my art to be seen as deep and honest, and something that manages to confirm other people’s perspectives on life; but at the same time to challenge them. That is what I think - I hope - my art is becoming about. If I can connect with just a few people through my work, and that inspires them in some way then I’m happy. I’m passionate about the Adelaide art community because it’s small, but it’s exciting because there is so much talent here.

Instagram: @elspethmckellar

To get in contact with Elspeth McKellar regarding commission pieces you can contact her at the following email address:

All images via Elspeth McKellar’s and Elspeth McKellar Artist’s Facebook pages.