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artist interview – tahnee kelland

A finalist in this year’s Good Stuff Awards, Tahnee Kelland caught our eye with her portraits of awkward souls. If you've ever felt anxious in social situations or held a self-pity party in your bedroom, you'll likely recognise yourself in Tahnee's art. In our chinwag below, Tahnee explains how she got started and why she hopes her paintings can offer a bit of comfort to the viewer.

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What’s your name and how old are you? Tahnee Kelland, 36.

Can you tell us a bit about your art journey? Well, it’s definitely been a ride – there’s no employee handbook for this career. I started working full-time as an artist about four years ago when I was made redundant from my nine-to-five retail job. I started off by drawing every day and posting about it and from there, opportunities presented themselves.

The first was a pop-up store at a place called MANY in Fremantle. Committing to opening a little store for two months really gave me a bit of purpose and direction, and while I was there, I was presented with my first mural opportunity. After that mural went bananas online, the job opportunities really didn’t stop and I created murals for two years straight.  

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What kind of mediums do you work in? I work with acrylic house paint. I used to be scared of painting because I started off drawing, and I felt like I had more control using a pencil. The thought of a brush flailing about intimidated me, but I’ve been painting for four years now and it’s become my favourite medium.

What inspired your series What You Go Through You Grow Through? The series was created as a piece of hope to those going through their own uncomfortable and awkward times. Like many, I’ve been through my fair share of it, especially in my late teens and through my 20s. The subjects in my paintings look pretty uncomfortable, but they’re also surrounded by flowers. I want to show that it’s OK if you feel crappy right now. Know that you can grow from this.

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How would you describe your style? I’ve had a few different styles over the years but at the moment I feel like they’ve all have combined into one current style that is the most me I’ve ever felt. Think patterns, symbology, folk art, flowers, the female form, foliage and a whole lot of gold leafing and you have me at my happiest.

What are you working on now? I’m working on some studio work – the themes are still similar, touching on the emotional growth and healing aspect, but the style is much more different and something I have been working towards for a long time. I also have a few murals coming up which I’m really excited about. The balance of both worlds feels really nice at the moment.

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Are you doing art full-time now? No, I work two days a week at a store called Paper Planes Co. When things took off for me as a mural artist, I found out that I’m the hardest boss I’ve ever had. The job offers came at me very thick and fast and I took them all on. I was pushing my body to work ridiculous hours and doing extremely physical work, with months and months of no days off.

My body ended up cracking it at me – I was bedridden for a long time and could hardly walk. It was a real low point and a massive wake-up call. Some friends offered me a position in their store as a good way to force rest, so now I get to listen to jazz all day and paint behind the counter. It’s been the perfect way to slow down the hustle of art life.

What do you wish you knew about being an artist before you got started? Looking back, I’d tell myself that mistakes will be the greatest learnings. I’d tell myself not to worry about other people’s judgement, to work hard but to also create balance and prioritise my health before any project.

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What do you enjoy doing when you’re not creating? I love hanging out at home with my husband and two kitties. They are my world. I’d probably be gardening, cooking, lazing around or maybe visiting the odd garage sale with my husband. We’re like an 80-year-old couple and it’s fantastic.

Where else can we find your work? I currently have a pop-up gallery exhibition at The Lakelands Shopping Centre in Mandurah, WA, and will be having an exhibition at The Courthouse Gallery in Port Hedland from the 19th of July. I have a new website coming soon but in the mean time, check out my Insta @tahnee_kelland as I post and sell most work from there.

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