First few basic questions, who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?
Kellette Elliott, I am an art teacher in Clackamas Oregon, USA
Why collages? What was about the medium that spoke to you?
Surprisingly, collaging was a media that I was not comfortable with–even as an art educator. I thought of collaging as being very busy, tons of images on 1 page–and I like clean, minimal art. I was an avid photographer and graphic designer for years. Then a few years ago, my advanced art students asked me to teach them how to collage and my eyes bulged out of my head in fear! I told them it was a medium that I was not comfortable with, but I would learn for them. I bought a sketchbook, books on collage, and taught myself–then taught them. There was a pile of vintage LIFE magazines in a cabinet in my classroom, and I started using those to collage with and I really started to enjoy it.
When you started to do art, what or who influenced you back then? And how’s that changed, what/who are your biggest influences as an artist now?
I started loving art in elementary school. I loved drawing, painting, anything in art class. I had a classmate, Pat Leavy, who was an amazing artist. He was chosen to make all of the school posters, flyers, etc and I was quite jealous! I was determined to get the same recognition as him. I would practice drawing in my bedroom late at night, every night, to build my skills. Later in high school, we were chosen to do projects together and I felt like the hard work I put in was worth it! Now that I have been collaging for some years, I really get inspiration from everywhere I look! I feel like I might see a post on Instagram that inspires me, a magazine illustration, a tv ad, the opening sequence of a television show. I am most influenced by art from 1950s-1970s. Inspiration is everywhere!
What are the best and worst things in collaging?
The best things about collaging are the community. I feel like it’s a very supportive, encouraging community. I love that it’s accessible by most. Many of us are dealing with medical challenges, emotional challenges, financial challenges and I feel like collage is a great way to express yourself with little obstacles to get the materials. The worst thing about collaging is what I had wrongly assumed, that it HAD to be a paper full of images. Busy. It doesn’t. I think many of my students think that way, and anyone not involved in the collage community. Collage can be quite minimal and impactful at the same time.
Do you have favorite materials, or do you like the challenge of working with something new?
My favorite materials are cellophane, my xacto knife, my spray adhesive, my 6 inch ruler and my circle tool. I tend to use the same materials regularly. I travel with them, I have extras of them, those are my necessities in collage.
While you’re working on new artwork, when do you know it’s ready?
I know a piece is complete when I feel good about it. I have an instinct that says “ok, that’s it!” It’s particularly challenging with my work because it’s so minimal, and a voice in my head challenges me at times saying “you need more”. But I like keeping my work minimal.
“It’s also a way for me to communicate what’s happening in my life and not having to explain to people individually.”
How important is the meaning you believe a piece of art has to you? Do you want your viewers to understand or know why you made your art?
This is really important to me. Because I am making art every day (this is my 4th YEAR!!!), much of my work is autobiographical. I tell stories about the passing of my mom, my medical issues, life as a teacher during a pandemic, etc. Usually in the title and sometimes the caption I will explain what the piece is about. It’s also a way for me to communicate what’s happening in my life and not having to explain to people individually. There are some pieces, if you follow my work long enough, where you might be able to catch what it’s about without my explanation. For example, I use birds as a symbol in my work representing my desire to be free of pain. I have had moments where my subject is looking at birds in admiration in my collages, sometimes my subject is starting to grow wings because I think my pain might be over soon, and then I may return to looking at birds again. Sometimes I will explain this, sometimes I hope that those that know me best can pick up what’s going on without me explaining.
Can you point out any particular turning points/moments in your career?
3 years ago I remember my first feature with Edinburgh Collage Collective. I have a lot of respect for Rhed Fawell, and that first time she picked my work for a feature was very motivating to keep doing what I was doing. When Playboy Magazine asked me to illustrate the featured editorial, that really was a pivotal moment for me as a working artist.
What keeps you doing art? What excites you about it?
What keeps me doing art is a couple of things: 1. It’s my escape from pain. I am in pretty crazy pain all day, and when I create for 1-2 hrs each day, I don’t think of my pain. I depend on that escape. 2. I am an art teacher, and I think it’s important to be a role model to my students as a working artist. 3. I really enjoy the community. I have built some amazing friendships through collage, and I need to stay engaged with my practice to keep up with all of them! What excited me about art making is that the opportunities are endless. I can make a different collage every day, I can learn from others, I can participate in amazing opportunities around the world. It’s like a drug, I keep wanting more!
If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?