Kelly-Anne Davitt is known for her hyper-real, virtuoso painting style in vibrant pop tones. For the ACBF Open Boot series she talks about her latest work, her inspiration and what it is like to have pet-ladybirds.
Vanessa: For the ACBF Flora & Fauna you created these beautiful paintings of bright, colourful sweets with a little ladybird walking on them. Where did the idea come from?
Kelly-Anne: Everything I paint is dictated by what I want to depict; colour, form and shine. I really enjoy the form of the Ladybirds. Shiny and bright red they are quite like a small sweet in a way. The collective name for ladybirds is the Coccinellidae, which has its origins in the Latin word coccineus meaning ‘scarlet’. The ladybird retro sweet paintings are inspired by a Nancy Fout’s artwork; Ladybird Ladybird, Fly away home. Which is an old sheet of music and Nancy has replaced the notes with ladybirds. Brilliant and humorous. Ladybirds symbolise luck, good fortune, fulfilled wishes and abundance. They are the lucky bug. The seven spotted ladybird is also really good for the environment, a natural pest control. So these are my Lucky Sweet Paintings.
Kelly-Anne Davitt in her studio with 'Ladybird Bubbly'
Vanessa: Did you have a ladybird model for these paintings?
Kelly-Anne: I bought some live ladybirds from Ebay and used them as models for the source material photos. I thought they would arrive in a nice little box but they were literally in a jiffy bag envelope which made me feel a bit sad. They were all very healthy though and I peeled grapes for them and had them as pets for a while. They are fascinating creatures, very chilled and tame and now living in my garden.
Vanessa: Where did the initial idea of painting sweets come from? What was your inspiration?
Kelly-Anne: I am exploring nostalgic objects and childhood memories through paint. My friend Salena Godden had sent me some 1980s themed sweets for my 40th birthday. The packaging really took me back to my childhood. Rainbow drops, fruit salads, bubbly, blackjack, Whistle, Dib Dab etc. I photographed them in the garden on a sunny day and had been waiting for their moment and they were the perfect thing. I love the way other people also respond and tell me their own stories about where these objects take them back to.
The retro sweet paintings also came from quite a difficult time when I had severe vertigo in the first lockdown of 2020. As I was getting better I decided to make some small scale works due to my now slightly limited capabilities.
Ladybird Blackjack by Kelly-Anne Davitt
Vanessa: Could you tell us a bit more about your painting technique?
Kelly-Anne: I always start with taking photos of what I am planning to paint, when the light is right outside I go out and take lots of photos. In this case I was using sweets and live ladybirds. I transfer the image to canvas always using a white ground. This helps to keep the colours vibrant. Then a sensitive acrylic underpainting, followed by 3-4 layers of oil, gradually building up the detail and tones. I create a solid form before adding any detail. For instance, creating the shape of the red shell of the ladybird before adding the black spots.
I have a huge collection of brushes. I use a dry brushing technique. That is to say I apply the paint wet in various tones to describe the form and then I use a dry brush so it blends out the brush marks. This is how I create the smooth surface.
Vanessa: Where did your career as a painter begin?
Kelly-Anne: When I was 16 I painted a portrait of my sister for my GCSE’S in acrylic, before that point I had mainly drawn in pencil and charcoal. I was studying at Long Road Sixth form college in Cambridge where I was encouraged to paint in oil for the first time. I had an amazing teacher called Rose Morton who helped me develop my skills as an artist and painter. She made me look at the white of the eye and see that it’s not white at all but greys and blues.
In my mid twenties, I started working as a painting assistant. My first job was with Mural artist Gary Myatt, then I painted for Damien Hirst and most recently I spent 8 years working with Patrick Hughes. Working as a painting assistant really helped to develop and refine my painting technique. Partly because of some healthy competition and also because you are working closely with other painters of such a high calibre, so you get to bounce ideas off each other and learn many new techniques.
Vanessa: Your work can undoubtedly be described as Pop Art, has this always been a direction for you?
Kelly-Anne: I have always been fascinated by really shiny imagery, I love advertising imagery, the way it is really fake and over the top, really happy and glossy, for example the shiny fruit on Tesco ads. This also extends to people smiling, and packaging, like the sweets packaging is kind of happy as well isn’t it?
There was an element of this in my ‘Feel Good’ series from 2010 or in the ‘Beach Balls and Melons’ series from 2016.
'Beach Balls', 2016 (left) and 'Feel Good', 2010 (right)
Vanessa: Do you listen to music when you work? Are there things you do to get into the right mindset or that help you when you paint?
Kelly-Anne: I like listening to audio books while I paint, it’s nice to drift around in a story while I work. When I am painting the small retro sweet works this is usually what I do. I like Amy Lame’s show on 6 music on a Sunday but usually I find music too distracting and need silence to concentrate. Throughout lockdown my anxiety levels rocketed so I started meditating. It’s much easier to paint if my mind isn’t screaming and busy. I like meditating now just to clear my mind its really great for focus and clarity.
Vanessa: Are you planning anything for the Flora & Fauna event on Saturday?
Kelly-Anne: On the Saturday between 1-4pm I will be on a live zoom link from my studio with my Art Car Boot Fair artworks including my new Ladybird series. I hope to meet my audience there and am happy to answer any questions about my work.
See you on the 15th of May for the Flora & Fauna event to meet many artists including Kelly-Anne Davitt.
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