Madeleine Kelly creates birds using drink containers

Madeleine Kelly, Germany/Australia b.1977 / Spectra of birds 2014–15 / Encaustic on cardboard with paper and text / 40 parts / Purchased 2015 with funds from the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Diversity Foundation through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / © Madeleine Teresa Kelly/Copyright Agency, 2020

Madeleine Kelly is well known for her figurative paintings that assemble information gleaned from the fields of archaeology and the sciences. Her works convey an ecological awareness with a stroke of magic realism. In this installation, Kelly has recreated species of birds – somewhat whimsically, using Tetra Pak drink containers – that she has identified on her walks through West Wollongong.

Artist Statement

My work incorporates aspects of archaeology, science, ecology and magic realism. In Spectra of birds, abstract images of birds spotted in West Wollongong are squeezed or trapped into the rectilinear architecture of empty Tetra Paks. The resulting expressionist distortions — angular in shape as determined by the cartons — are half-bird, half-cultural object suggesting the continual commodification of nature, the transformation of rubbish and a world gradually destroying itself. In capitulating to the cartons’ open spouts, the birds’ forms embody the phantasmic property of everyday materials replete with associative meanings of myth and consumerism. Two modes of identity — birds/cartons and art/consumer materials — are sustained simultaneously in a single object.

The planes of colour recall the work of colour field painter Ellsworth Kelly, who attributes his minimal colour abstractions and the titles of his works to birdwatching as a young boy with his grandmother. Yet, in contrast to the restraint of formalist colour field painting, these birds might be said to return abstraction to its origins in nature, producing effects whereby different permutations of colour and combinations of form embrace diversity, visual analogy and the aesthetic qualities of remarkable animals. The type of object depends on the intersection of birds that are seen and therefore made, but their squashed states also suggest a crisis — those endangered, betrayed or disappeared.

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Madeleine Kelly, Germany/Australia b.1977 / Spectra of birds (details) 2014–15

The inventive use of discarded materials has a certain correspondence with the fleeting encounters with the birds that inspire each form, the containers are used and crushed, suggesting ‘a crisis – those endangered, betrayed or disappeared’. This tension between nature and culture is exposed with the addition of the names of all the region’s threatened and extinct birds that the artist would like to view.

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