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Inside Painter Kirsty Budge's Apartment Studio

Studio Visit

Kirsty Budge shuffled between watercolours, printmaking, photography and drawing before settling on oil painting as her primary mode of artistic expression, well into her adult life. Since then, the artist’s style has evolved in a slow and measured way, and her distinctive twisted, melancholy paintings have received many accolades – including, most recently, the 2021 Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize.

Kirsty’s home studio feels a little like an artist’s studio from the 1970s, perhaps somewhere in Europe, where obsessive art-making overtakes everyday life. Here Kirsty lives and works, constantly slipping between the boundaries of her all-consuming art practice, and her personal space.

14th March, 2022

Inside Kirsty’s creative space. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

The artist has been living in her Abbotsford apartment since mid-2020. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘Painting itself has become a form of communication for me especially when it feels like I have lost the verbal ability,’ Kirsty says. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘I have to be disciplined with myself not to let the studio take over the whole place and keep areas relatively designated.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Kirsty says she finds ‘comfort in working within a familiar and limited colour palette. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Thoughts, memories, feelings, encounters, soundbites and observations help inform her works. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

I paint in layers and in different stages so patience, energy and time is key to generating my works.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

A peek at Kirsty’s mood boards and inspirations. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘The Elephant in the Room’ by Kirsty Budge. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Luckily, her apartment’s not short on natural light and doubles as a perfect studio! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Kirsty’s striking works were recently on show at the Melbourne Art Fair. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

‘The migratory bird and the high horse’ by Kirsty Budge. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files

Sasha Gattermayr
Monday 14th March 2022

‘My art practice is extremely solitary and very integrated into my daily life. Painting itself has become a form of communication for me.’ – Kirsty Budge

While she was growing up, Kirsty Budge’s nana lived next door to a sign-painter, who taught a pre-pubescent Kirsty about painting techniques. In 2010, the artist properly committed to oil painting, and has been producing work non-stop ever since.

‘I consider myself a full-time painter as I paint all the time, more hours than I do anything else,’ she says. ‘I’ve been working from various home studios since March 2018 and I have been living in this particular apartment in Abbotsford since mid-2020.’

The last four years of living and working in the same space has blended the boundary intensely between Kirsty’s life and art. Her dark, dynamic paintings have swirled to a grand scale, sucking in light and squeezing the air out of any spare space in the frame. Her canvases are tightly packed and muscular, toeing a fine line between abstract and figurative.

When we visited Kirsty’s apartment/studio, she’d been busy creating works for the Melbourne Art Fair in February, and for her big solo show at Daine Singer in September this year, thus, it was appropriately packed with works surrounded by books, half-mixed palettes and inspiration tacked to the wall.

It’s a true artist’s space.

First of all, can you tell us about your space?

I have been living in this apartment in Abbotsford since mid-2020. It’s a fantastic space and really functional. Great light, wall space, a void, great storage and it’s very private and peaceful. The last four years of living and working in the same space has dramatically pushed my art practice into an intense relationship between myself and painting. I have to be disciplined with myself not to let the studio take over the whole place and keep areas relatively designated.

How did you find your style?

I think that my painting just keeps evolving as I do as a person and a style/voice or general sensibility has emerged over time. Where I’m at personally generally dictates my painting in some way because the process, the practice and the environment all inform each other. I just feel like it’s all a continuous exploration based on a mix of challenging situations, questioning, small gradual decisions and bold moves. It feels slow and fast at the same time, but it also feels like only very recently have I had the confidence in myself and in my work to really speak.

Can you describe your typical subject matter?

The painter Grace Hartigan once said that she thinks that perhaps the subject of her art is the same as the definition of humour, emotional pain remembered in tranquility. I feel the same.

What is the process of actually making one of your paintings?

I primarily work with oil paint on stretched canvas, and the variation in scale unfortunately doesn’t help dictate the time it takes to make a painting. They take weeks and months and many hours. Some take years.

I paint in layers and in different stages so patience, energy and time is key to generating my works. In the last year I’ve been making predominantly large paintings as I’ve felt the physical urge to take up space and painting is the safest way for me to do so.

The painting process itself is vital, as I paint intuitively by pulling forms forward and continuously pushing things back to create a composition that makes sense within its own logic. Each painting I resolve feels like a natural progression from something I’ve learned from one prior.

You’ve said before that your works include introspection and psychoanalysis. Could you expand on that?

I take a lot of notes. I write down a lot of thoughts, memories, feelings, encounters, soundbites and observations while I paint and work throughout the day. I’ve been slowly reading through the works of Carl Jung over the past two years and attempting to understand the different worlds of the human psyche, the collective unconscious, archetypal symbols, synchronistic connections and dream analysis. I love a sub-text and the discerning nuanced space of what’s not being said. I pay attention to repeated motifs as they appear and have to decide whether to follow or ignore.

When the painting begins to move towards a certain stage, I analyse my notes to decode the work and can begin to understand what its showing me and subsequently what that means to me. One of the biggest challenges is to reach the moment in the painting when I can’t see myself in it anymore but it is somehow also telling me that I exist by having moved through it.

What’s your relationship to colour?

My relationship to colour feels very personal and it feels quite sensitive. I am vulnerable to sensory overloads so I find a comfort in creating my own framework within a discerning limited palette. There comes a point where I just repeatedly encounter the same colour combinations in unassuming places so I pay attention to patterns around me.

Earth colours help me feel grounded and safe so they are involved in every palette I mix. I get a deep satisfaction from colour mixing and the nuance in tone and power of light and shadow. Colour is an essential part of the process and narrative for me as is the relationship between the shards of light and the darkness.

Do you have any references or inspiration?

I glean from everywhere: television, film, nature, walking, writing, reading, from pop culture, photographs from past travels, from memories, from recurring dreams, from both lived experience and an imagined reality. I get obsessed with things, follow clues and dive in deep. I’m a natural investigator and born sleuth so I can’t really help it.

I have favourite painters whose work I always find myself returning to like Grace Hartigan, Philip Guston, Giorgio de Chirico, Goya, Manet, Morandi. Over the past few years I have been very preoccupied with the life and work of the writer Janet Frame. There’s this surreal space that she occupies that feels like an amalgam of experience, reflection and imagination that I’m always aiming to reach.

Finally, what does art-making mean to you?

My art practice is extremely solitary and very integrated into my daily life. Painting itself has become a form of communication for me, especially when it feels like I have lost the verbal ability. It also helps me to process situations and to question and explore roads not taken, at the border of the imaginary and the real.

I feel like painting enables me to engage in a dialogue with the dead, the absent and the lost and inevitably with those who are here. I guess it’s not so much about what I want to communicate but more about being a part of a continuous conversation. I hope the paintings I make offer some form of respite and encourage a curiosity for the people that view them because things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface.

Kirsty Budge is represented by Daine Singer, who will be exhibiting her solo show in September 2022. Keep up to date with her shows on her Instagram here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net