Art20 January 2023by Te Manawa

Bears will always be there for you

Women's Art Initiative member Kelsey discusses her paintings and teddy bear installation, both part of "Standing In My Own Light - E tū ana i tōku ake marama", with WAI founder Dr Karen Seccombe. You can also watch this interview on Youtube.

Kelsey: It all started off with one bear that I made to represent myself, and it came out looking like a big ball of anxiety – which sums me up pretty well! – but I included things like flowers and leaves and colours that I feel revolve around that type of emotion. After a while I thought that I would add in all the emotions that I feel. You’ll notice that the anger bear is significantly smaller than all the other bears! I usually jump to either hyper-anxiety or feeling really sad rather than getting angry. Every bear has flowers and leaves to represent my connection to nature, and they’ve all got a face put onto a very harmless little body, but it’s full of expression.

I chose bears because I’ve always been very connected to teddy bears; throughout my childhood, people were constantly disappearing from my life or passing away, but the one thing that was always there for me was my teddy bears. I feel like they’re quite a big part of who I am, so I wanted to incorporate them into expressing that. 

Karen: They’re amazing, really beautiful, with their little personalities. That was quite a cool project. And that soft cuddly animal theme comes into your paintings too 

Kelsey: The majority of paintings I have here are of animals – once again, the connection to nature. They make up about half of what I’ve done over the past two years. Every single one tells a story – a story that only I know – based on where I painted it and what was happening at the time that gave me the inspiration. Together they show my journey through life over the past two years. 

Karen: How many did you do over that time? 

Kelsey: There was probably over a hundred. I originally was going to have all of them in there but it didn’t quite work out. I’ll often come in to WAI for a few hours and then leave with about six new paintings.

Karen: The thing with any work is that the viewer coming into the gallery space always reads their own story in that work. What we intend isn’t always what they’re going to read from it. But if you get someone reading that work and it has an impact on them in any way, that’s what you want, really: for someone to see themselves in a work or to respond to it in a way that has connection for them. For me it doesn’t matter whether people see exactly what I’m saying; does it for you? 

Kelsey: Not really. I feel like as long as they’re appreciating the art I don’t mind what they think of it, though I feel it’s different for my two pieces. The paintings, I feel like it’s nice for them to be looked at and appreciated, while for the bears…half the meaning behind them is quite obvious, so as long as they understand that much I’m pretty happy. 

Karen: And because you’ve got quite different works in here, it allows you to say things from different parts of yourself when you’re working in different ways 

Te Manawa: You’ve painted animals from all around the world. Is there a story for each one? 

Kelsey: The animals are mostly just what occurred to me at the time. The main animals that I’ll paint at the moment is native birds. I think they’re absolutely beautiful. It doesn’t matter where in the country I am, I’ll always feel at home. Living overseas for a couple of years, it got me noticing how connected I feel to this country.  

Karen: And native birds come out in everyone’s work. The bird is a really powerful symbol of freedom and flight, and that sense that we’re connected to the natural world is important to all of us as a collective.