SC: Do you think that is the difference between people who work with the same materials in a professional studio craft context and contemporary art context, in the sense that there is a level of expectation with output or its finish?
KR: I definitely think this is the case. Certainly before I started making functional objects such as my recent jewellery for Pieces of Eight, when I was just making sculptural art pieces, the idea of the finish wasn’t really central. For resin for instance you need to do a lot of sanding, and I didn’t really do this for my early resin sculptures. It’s almost horrifying for me now to think back on that, but gradually as I started making more functional wares like jewellery I realised the necessity of all this sanding and finishing. Perhaps if you begin as a craftsperson, those values of refinement and finish are there right from the beginning.
SC: There is a recent trend I’ve noticed in terms of particular craft practices where people who have been working in the field for a long time or have been trained at particular institutions might have an idea of the ‘right’ way of doing something. At the moment for example there is a big interest in ceramics in contemporary art – although that has opened up further discussions about what it means to work with clay.
KR: Yes, and I think it has only been beneficial for me to engage with these ideas. I do also think this has been a natural part of the development of my artistic practice and career. Perhaps it’s only natural that as I get older my expectations change, and that when I was younger and started working I still had a lot to learn.
I was in the Adelaide Biennale this year and there were two ceramicists in particular – Glenn Barkley and Ramesh Nithiyendran – who both operate on a very fine art end of the spectrum, very well crafted but whose works challenge and push the boundaries of traditional studio ceramic practice and expectations. So that might challenge a viewer who has ideas or preconceived notions of ceramics looking or functioning in a certain way!
SC: I find it interesting that we are still having these conversations now. I almost feel like surely because contemporary art is now so multi-disciplinary, the old adage about ‘craft vs art’ is just not interesting anymore.
KR: Yes, It should have been put to rest a long time ago! (laughs).
SC: I studied art history, so I am also really interested in your continued references to Baroque and Rococo in your work. Can you tell me a bit more about the influence of art history and the decorative arts on your practice? How did you first encounter these ideas?
KR: My first real exposure to this period of history was when I was a 19-year old art student and I went to Europe for the first time. I saw in Austria, Germany and Frances these real examples of Baroque and Rococo art and design. It was the first time that I went to museums that were built in that era, and also my first time seeing art presented in different interiors, not just ‘white cube’ spaces, but interiors that were contemporary to the time the objects were made so you could gain a wider contextual understanding.
SC: Were there any standout museums you remember going to?
KR: The one that really blew my mind away at the time was the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, but also going to the Louvre for the first time. It was incredible to visit these galleries that as an art student you would have heard about or seen in books. Part of the reason I loved it was because in Australia there isn’t really anything like it, the built environment is relatively recent, so this ornate decorative era never existed here.
SC: Do you think if you didn’t go on that trip, your art would have turned out completely differently?
KR: I think it would! Seeing those places and historical sites influenced me a lot.
SC: While your work makes direct reference to Baroque and Rococo, one of its most distinctive qualities is your use of bright colour. How important is the use of colour to you and is it indicative of particular meanings?
KR: For me, it’s not so much about the implied meanings but more about the fact that colours can create a feeling. Colours can have strong psychological effects, and your experience of a space can be completely altered through colour. I’m interested in these experiences.
SC: Speaking of creating strong experiences, one thing I have noted about your work is your focus on creating a Gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘total work of art’ that immerses the viewer. Many of your recent projects such as your solo exhibition at Karen Woodbury Gallery and your contribution to Rigg Design Prize at the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) in 2015 have really shown this. Is this something you will continue to explore, and does it relate to your broader interest in ornamentation and decorative arts?
KR: From the time I was an art student my ideal was always to make works that would operate in a more ‘complete’ environment, if not created by me then in venues that were non-traditional non-white cube spaces, that had their own histories. Places like the Johnston Collection in East Melbourne to a niche museum in Tokyo that contained obsolete teaching instruments, where I had an opportunity to create an installation.
For the Rigg Design Prize, when curator Simone LeAmon invited me to be part of it she said she wanted each of the artists to think of their contribution as a complete interior, not just as objects. For me, that was a dream come true and the gallery supported me in doing new things such as making a custom wallpaper. Working in a larger institution gave me the opportunity to be more ambitious with my vision.
SC: To finish this interview, please tell me more about your show ‘Luminous Realms’ at Craft. What are you most excited about showing?
KR: ‘Luminous Realms’ is sort of like a survey exhibition of the last ten years that also encompasses the time I have been working with resin as well. There are a couple of resin works from my very first big cabinets, and then various vases and vessels that I’ve made. Craft also asked me to develop new wallpapers, and I really enjoyed the process previously at the NGV and was really excited about the prospect of returning to this again.