With a tip of a brush, Kellie Orr can take a person and in one portrait, turn them on their own head.
Now a full-time artist in Perth, Kellie had begun her venture into painting after scrolling for art on Instagram during work breaks at her corporate job. Her work reflects the ambiguities of human life through hyperrealistic oil paintings.
Combining pragmatic hyperrealism with a serious conceptional swing, painter Kellie Orr twists her subjects into a new realm of meaning.
HAPPY: Where did your passion for painting begin?
KELLIE: It began in high school, although I’ve always liked art. I remember doing a self-portrait in year 11 where we had to look in the mirror and paint what we saw. Mine was so shit that my grandad called me up to tell me all the things that were wrong with it. In year 12, I decided to have another go and do three portraits as my main body of work because I had an idea that I might actually be okay at it. I thought it would work out better if I took a reference photo and planned the composition rather than winging it.
Anyway, I had a crack at it and found it pretty straightforward! That was when I started to really like the process of painting but it was only when I realised that I could put a concept behind a portrait that I became super passionate, let’s say slightly obsessive, about art.
HAPPY: Your work consists mostly of hyperreal portraits. How did you come across this idea and what made you invested in this style?
KELLIE: I’ve played around with a few styles, and about three years ago I was trying out some quite painterly brushstrokes, but really, I just found I was better at realism and I’ve always gravitated towards that style.In saying that, I used to think realism and hyperrealism were a bit boring. I’m not that into plain images painted hyper-realistically without style or creativity, like a guy sitting in a chair or a family photograph.
I really got excited by this style when I started on Instagram in 2015, it opened my eyes to brilliant artists making very creative hyperrealistic and realistic paintings that were fun, energetic, young and unique. I think that there’s some amazing contemporary realism and hyperrealism coming out of North America and I just didn’t know about it before Instagram.
HAPPY: One of your paintings is a deflated unicorn balloon. What’s the story behind this?
KELLIE: Haha! It is odd, isn’t it? Well, I think balloons look great in paintings, and I was driving down Canning Highway in Perth one day and drove past a balloon store with that balloon in the window and I thought, “Shit I want to paint that! What could I say about it?” I thought of lots of ideas, brainstormed and then brought in a friend to nut it out and landed on this:
When you’re a child you have a ‘full balloon’, you’re full of wonder, magic, openness, and positivity. As you grow up, life throws you hurdles and your balloon ‘deflates’. It’s hard to keep it inflated and you have to figure out what ways work for you.
HAPPY: Do you believe that portraits limit the representation of complex personalities?
KELLIE: I think that I can only convey so much through a single image. If I were to make a movie exploring one of the concepts behind my work then I could say a lot more, but I quite like the ambiguity present in paintings. I like to have concepts behind my work, but art is different for each person, and I think it’s delightful that someone will take meaning from my work in a way I never could have expected.
One time someone asked me whether my painting A Curated Life was about people’s distortion of their self-image, which is totally different from my intended concept, but I thought it was awesome! It absolutely fits the work. In contrast, one time a guy pointed at the painting and said, “cool, I see a booby!” Everyone’s different.
HAPPY: What is it like doing a self-portrait in comparison to painting another subject?
KELLIE: It’s awesome. My absolute favourite thing about art is the freedom I have to do whatever the hell I like. When you paint someone else you get tied up in their shit – like how they want to be portrayed and their ego. When you paint yourself, you can say whatever you want and be as critical as you like.
HAPPY: What is the art scene like in Perth?
KELLIE: It’s no New York, you know? Probably the best part of the scene in Perth is that there are some awesome supportive artists who are always willing to help out with advice. I think a lot can be achieved via the internet without physically being in a big art city, but I would love to have a studio in New York, LA, Toronto, or London.
HAPPY: There was a time where you had not worked in art but in government. When did you decide art was the thing you’re most passionate about doing?
KELLIE: When I first met my partner Callum, he used to tell me that I needed a hobby – he’s a talented photographer and he thought I’d benefit from a creative outlet. At that time, my corporate career had really taken over and I hadn’t painted in years – how boring!
I mentioned that I used to paint and he encouraged me to get started again. I basically did one painting and then came across the idea of concepts behind art and was hooked! Within a year, I’d quit my corporate career to give art the priority. I’m passionate about lots of things and art is definitely one of them. It’s dangerous to get me talking about art because I can just chew peoples ears off. I love it.
HAPPY: You used to scroll for art on Instagram during your work breaks. What are currently your favourite Instagram accounts?
KELLIE: Yes! I still spent wayyyy too much time on Instagram. There are so many accounts I love, and artists I love. In terms of artists and photographers, I always admire the work of; kit king, Maciek Jasik, Ren Hang, Jen Mann, Lisa King, Kari-lise, Abdul Abdullah, Synchrodogs, Erik Jones, Aaron Nagel, Martine Johanna, Joanne Leah. And so many more.
HAPPY: As a self-taught painter, how did you go about learning the trade? Any advice for beginners?
KELLIE: I spend a huge amount of time painting, observing artists whose work I admire, thinking about painting, and planning paintings. Obviously, more practice equals increased skill level. But also, I’ve spent some really valuable time learning directly from artists whose styles are quite similar to mine, and I think this is the best way to learn technique.
There are lots of art classes around but the information can be quite generic. I actually really love passing on tips and sharing knowledge so I’m happy to be contacted directly with specific questions. My biggest piece of advice would be to try lots of styles until you find one style you’re passionate about and then invest effort and time – art is a slow burn not a quick race.
HAPPY: Alain de Botton who co-founded School of Life influences your art. How do you believe philosophy and art can crossover?
KELLIE: Yes, Alain de Botton has directly influenced two paintings I’m currently working on. The paintings are about how we think we are bizarre because of our odd thoughts, but if we only knew everyone else’s thoughts we’d realise we are all bizarre, we just conceal our weirdness from each other to align with society’s expectations.
I think art often reflects philosophical ideas, like studying human behavior or searching for wisdom, knowledge or meaning. My art is certainly philosophical.
HAPPY: Do you have any projects in the works?
KELLIE: There are some exciting potential projects in the works but nothing confirmed yet! I’ll be finishing my current painting today (hopefully) and then I’ll get straight on to my next work, which may be a self-portrait depending on how tonight’s photoshoot goes.