October 10, 2015
I’M NOT sure what I was expecting when I met Kerry Spokes. Only recently introduced to the world of art, I had been taken to the Gippsland 14 exhibition where I saw her work displayed and I wanted more. I loved the, what were to me, quirky representations of the world around us. I tried to find meaning in the miniature-sized sheep in the kitchen with a set of barber scissors sitting on a chair above them. Were the sheep to be shorn and ultimately end up on our dinner plate? Then I thought – “Don’t be silly – just have fun.” And I did.
But as you can see from her work it is more than happy snapping. As with any work of art, it requires innovation, inspiration and imagination. Kerry has transported her images into an art form that is now appreciated throughout the world. Already she has won several “Highly Commendeds” in international competitions where iphoneography is more advanced than it is in Australia.
Kerry started her life in art when she was all of four years old when she admired her brother’s picture and thought she could do that. It’s a passion from which she has never wavered, despite times in her life when the pressures of her environment made it impossible for her to so much as pick up a pencil.
Born on King Island to a Wonthaggi mum, she had never been too far from home. Studying for her diploma of art at the Gippsland Institute at Churchill, she was encouraged to go out and see the world before completing her studies. So she decided to head to Adelaide.
All that conservatism was swept to the side when she really started to discover her own country and travelled throughout the top end ultimately taking on jobs as cook/deckhand, going out to sea for four months at a time on prawn fishing trawlers. It was a challenge in so many ways, not least of which was the fact that she was vegetarian at the time and discovered that the erstwhile fishing crews like nothing more than a massive cooked steak or meat carved off the side of a lamb to sate their hunger after a long day of fishing.
After six boat trips, she had enough saved to start to see the world and travelled to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Back in Australia, she decided after the birth of her first child to come back home. She got a place at university to continue her studies and started a degree full time in visual arts. At the time single mothers were being encouraged to be retrained. Not only were the studies subsidised and childcare provided, but she was given enough money to live on. The course lecturers were all practising contemporary artists and students were encouraged to gain an understanding of contemporary thinking through a whole raft of art forums, visiting artists, critiques and excursions.
As she went on to have other children, Kerry says she “went into recess”. “With two kids in nappies, and a young boy, there was no time for art.” But then as the younger ones became less dependent on her, she started to look at ways she could create art as well as contribute to the household budget. It came in the form of menu boards for pubs and restaurants.
She moved to Sandy Point and was inspired by a meeting with Kim McDonald who also had her own brood – the difference was that Kim was finding time to paint. Kerry says, “If she could do it – I thought I could do it.” In 2001 Kerry decided to move to Fish Creek, where she bought a house in the same street she grew up in. She realised she couldn’t rely on art to support her. Being ever practical, she worked as a cleaner at the local hospital before she went onto become an aged care worker.
She also started to enter art shows and started to win. She joined Prom Coast Arts Council, a non-profit community arts organisation that presents art exhibitions, classical and world music events and auspices group and individual art projects. She was president for 11 years and has only recently stepped down to become vice-president.
One of the council-auspiced grants, funded by Regional Arts Victoria, allowed Kerry and two other local artists to work on the Millenium Resolution Project, a celebration of the turn of the century – and celebrate they did. The three artists created a giant fish in the style of the Chinese Dragon and had it wending its way to a fiery metal cauldron complete with a whirling dervish. Kerry has been involved in many community arts projects, including the Flower Tower Project for the Mossvale Music Festival, along with fellow artist Susan Purdy.
Around 2003, Kerry and a couple of friends rented out a working space in Fish Creek on a peppercorn rental. There were no set opening hours – but when it was open she started selling some of her work. This was where she first met Michael, her partner in the business and life. He had a ceramic tile business and asked her “to come up and see my work”. Oh yeah …. anyway, together they bought some framing gear, stock and cutters and decided to open Gecko Studio Gallery. That was nearly 11 years ago now. Kerry and Michael have kept their commission on sales low, with the aim of supporting artists in the venture, including selling affordable art materials so artists don’t have to make the trek to Melbourne.
Gecko started running workshops in etching and print making with a number of guest tutors and has now added iphoneography to the list of options.
And now the circle completes itself as Kerry uses her iPhone works to inform her current drawings, etchings and paintings. She is looking for inspiration in the landscape around her. She has now done a series of landscape works, deriving from her 2014 iPhone photographic exhibition called ‘Out There’, of the countryside around her from Foster North to Fish Creek. One of these carbon and graphite pencil drawings, ‘Mist’, won the recent Bass Coast Shire YAC Award.
There is no stopping Kerry Spokes, as she is about to have a show in Melbourne at the Tacit Gallery in Johnson Street, Abbotsford from November to December. It will certainly be worth seeing.