If you’ve ever sat down and really had a crack at making a collage, you’ll know how addictive it is.
Collage is fun. You hunt and gather your images, and then you sit down with your scissors and glue and assemble something you couldn’t have imagined if you tried. It’s a completely engrossing activity, and Sydney-based artist Kitty Callaghan has been hooked on it for years. In fact, Kitty has been cutting up pictures and gluing them together for as long as she can remember, and that’s lead to a career with commissions, exhibitions and membership to exclusive collage clubs (it’s a thing). Earlier this year, Kitty had an opening at Sydney’s China Heights gallery that was quickly shut down by good ol’ covid, so we gave her a buzz to talk about that, and also to ask about her flaming hair and how many glue sticks she burns through in a week.
First question: You and your siblings have flaming red hair.
Flaming red, yes.
Does it come from your mother, your father or both?
They’re both brunettes.
So, it’s a recessive gene thing?
Well, that’s crazy. How’s lockdown treating you?
Yeah, not bad. I’m staying at my boyfriend’s house and he’s a cook, so it’s actually been pretty enjoyable. I’m just eating lots of delicious food and feeling lucky.
When did your China Heights show open, June?
Yeah, the 18th of June. So, it was open for a week and then it got shut down. I’m just grateful that it happened at all, because there were artists who were booked in to show, and they’ve produced all this work, but right now they don’t even know… And there’s a whole backlog of shows that go into the middle of next year, and that’s all going to get pushed back.
I’m also grateful that there weren’t any cases at the opening because, as you know, China Heights is so intimate; it gets packed in there. Anyway, I’m glad the show got to happen in the first place.
Is all the work still hanging in the gallery?
No, they’ve taken it down.
Is everything online now?
I haven’t spoken to them about it, but I don’t think they’re going to do the digital opening thing that some galleries are doing. I think they just want to wait.
Let’s talk about your work. You’re a collage… ist?
How long have you been at it?
I think about ten years now.
And why collage?
I just always enjoyed making scrapbooks for all my friends as a kid. I was always making scrapbooks for birthdays and things like that, and then…
And then you just kept doing it.
Yeah, but there were heaps of times over the years where I was like, ‘This is so lame. I don’t want to do it anymore,’ but then I’d find myself cutting and pasting again.
Why do you think it’s lame?
I don’t know! Well, maybe not lame, but… At one point I enrolled to do video effects at AFTRS, and I did that for one semester… At the time, I just thought, ‘Okay, it’s time to evolve, it’s time to stop doing this…’
Stop doing collage?
Yeah, but it’s only been the last year or so that I’ve felt like, ‘Nah, I think this is what I like to do; I’m just gonna do this.’
Collage is a weird one. I love it, and most people do, but the only collage artist I could name off the top of my head is, like, Richard Hamilton, the pop artist, which makes me feel like there aren’t many collage artists out there—and yet there’s a Sydney Collage Society.
Oh, yeah! I’m a part of that!
I know! So, what is it? Do you get together and talk about glue and scissors?
My friend Kubi (Vasak) runs it; he’s the best. He just gets everyone together. I haven’t done one yet, but he hosts workshops; they were doing them at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. And they do shows and stuff. He’s all over it. He’s always finding new artists and connecting people; he’s great.
That’s cool. Okay. Let’s talk about cutting things up and destroying them to make something else. Your art means wrecking stuff, basically.
Yeah, I know, and I like to find things that are quite obscure; so, sometimes I’ll find a really nice book and think, ‘Do I really want to cut this up?’ But I always do. I’ve got so many books with holes in them.
You must have a massive stockpile of books and magazines.
I do. But then sometimes I’ll cut everything out and still keep the book; then I come back later and it’s like, there’s literally nothing in here. I’ve butchered it.
When you’re making a piece, do have any idea of what you want to create, or do you work in a more instinctual, improvisational way?
What I usually do is cut things up and keep them so that when I’m collaging, I just have everything there. So, I’ll have a day where I go through everything and be like, ‘that’s cool, that’s cool, that’s cool,’ and then put it all aside. And then the next step would be sitting down and figuring what I like the most and putting it all together.
Is it purely aesthetic or is there a message or meaning behind the work?
I don’t know. I think I think things as I’m making them, but the message—if there is one—is probably only to myself.
Who are your guys, who are your influences in the collage world?
I really love Linder Sterling…
Oh, that’s Morrissey’s best friend.
What? Are they best friends?
Yeah, since they were teenagers. She did that Buzzcocks album cover, right?
Yeah, that’s Morrissey’s best bud.
Trust you to know that.
I know. But let’s not talk about Morrissey, he’s cooked. Who else do you like in collage?
I really like Katrien De Blauwer. Her work is so minimal but so… powerful.
What about John Stezaker? Do you like him?
I actually don’t know him…
Me neither, I just found him while Googling stuff for this.
I really like B.D. Graft. He’s a painter, but he started this thing, this Instagram account called @addyellow where he makes these collages out of found imagery and adds an element of yellow. It’s really cool and simple.
I’ll check him out. How do you know when you’ve finished a piece?
Oh, I always struggle with that because I always find myself thinking, ‘Oh, okay, that looks really good!’ but then I do some more stuff and then it doesn’t look as good, it only looks a little bit good so, ‘I guess I’ll stop now.’ It’s really hard to know when to stop.
It’s the bane of any artist, I think. Okay, let’s wrap her up—what’s next for Kitty Callahan?
I’m working on a couple of things… I’m actually working on a piece for Carriage Works at the moment. There’s a project they’re doing which, I think, what they’re doing is projecting work…
When’s this happening?
Well, after lockdown. They gave me a brief. They liked the works that were in the China Heights show, which was actually one giant collage that I cut up into smaller, individual works. So, [at Carriage Works] it’ll be one work that they’re going to project as three different works that all kind of connect.
That sounds cool. Here’s hoping the lockdown ends soon so we can see it.