Australian painter Tahnee Kelland has had her fair share of awkward and difficult moments in her life. In her latest series she captures not only that feeling, but also the one of hope that emerges once those times have been overcome. Alex Kahl talks to her about the project charting the ups and downs of human emotions.
In 2015, Australian artist Tahnee Kelland was made redundant from her job at a retail store, having worked as the manager there for most of her adult life. A lot of people might see this as a loss and struggle as a result but Tahnee thrived, seeing it as an opportunity to do something she had been considering for a long time. She just needed that push. “It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” she says now.
Tahnee had always wanted to make the move to working full time as an artist, but was being held back by her own fears. “The security of the job created no sense of hunger or urgency towards this dream,” she says. “Being made redundant was such a blessing. It made me focus wholeheartedly on art and creating daily until organically opportunities arose.”
As far back as she can remember, Tahnee has always loved art. She recalls how, even when she was young, she could always be found making something. This didn’t always translate to great success in her art lessons, though, because she never drew what she was asked to. “I’m a pretty stubborn person,” she says, and she’s carried that stubbornness forward into her professional career, rejecting even the well paid jobs if her heart isn’t in them. “If I’m creating something I’m not enjoying, the whole reason for creating is lost,” she says.
Tahnee’s latest series, entitled Awkward, is a collection of paintings that captures how it feels to feel, well, awkward. People are depicted tripping over obstacles and falling flat on their faces, some exhaustedly slumped on sofas and sliding off chairs, while others simply try to cover their faces with household objects. “I think we are all a little awkward,” she says.
But it’s not just the everyday awkwardness that has inspired this series - Tahnee admits that she’s been through some tough times with her mental health, and recalls the “glorious and messy mental breakdown” of her mid 20s. “I’ve come out the other side of that awful period now and I look back on that time in my life with gratitude.” The Awkward series was made with that hindsight, and with that gratitude in mind, so although the characters within it appear beaten down and drained, the series carries a message of hope. “The flowers surrounding every scene represent the growth we all gain from those hard times,” Tahnee says. “They feel horrible at the time but we need those times to grow emotionally.”
Asked about her favorite scene in the series, Tahnee says she feels like a mother being asked who her favorite child is. “I see myself in all of them at different stages of my life and those stages have been really important in getting me to where I am today,” she says. If she had to pick one, though, she’d go with Socializing at a Party, in which a woman lies hidden under the cushions of a couch. “I haven’t been to a party in at least ten years and the reference photo is of me in my pajamas squished into a couch with my sidekick Luna. That’s more my kind of party.”