Kayleigh Heydon has always felt like she's been making art. She started as her dad’s tools assistant at a young age and then later on studied Interactions Arts at Manchester School of Art and Design. However, it was after moving to Melbourne that Kayleigh started painting. Her paintings include abstract shapes coloured by earthy, warm hues for the viewer to interpret.
Recently, Kayleigh held her second solo exhibition at Modern Times, titled “The Pleasure Is All Mine”. In this interview, we discuss what pleasure means, her foray into painting and working with Heimur to bring her paintings to life.
Congratulations on your second solo exhibition, how has it all been?
Thank you! It’s been good, it didn’t feel quite real. I feel like I was in someone else’s show. I’ve sold like six works so far, which is a great start.
The title of the show is the “The Pleasure is All Mine”. Can you explain it in further detail?
So the body of work was a progression of what I was doing already, like very figurative and strong shapes, but I always try to add more depth into them. When I started doing that, they starting having personalities or things were happening in the paintings. Suddenly they looked more real and then a lot of things that I saw in the paintings was that the forms were quite feminine still. I don’t think they exclude masculinity but I think they’re definitely more feminine.
Personally when I look at them, they’re very evocative. They’re quite sensual. There’s hands in there and wine glasses and it seems like a very bougie, over-the-top, kind of feel. I like the idea it was to do with female pleasure and reclaiming pleasure and it seemed like these women, or these figures, seem to be taking charge.
What do you find pleasure in?
Cleaning (laughs). I’m a very organised person so I derive pleasure from organisation and being in control. I think that’s a conscious pleasure, like instant gratification. Whereas I think mindlessly, I’m most content when I’m walking my dog and listening to music. That’s something I would do to stop thinking. I think that’s one of the main things.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I’d say it was quite minimal. The work I had around Christmas, in my eyes, was quite minimal but had a 1970’s Bauhaus feel. It was definitely influenced by that. Like if women could paint in the Bauhaus, that’s what it would look like. When I started doing the show, I really wanted to start putting more depth into the work and the work just became busier. It became more abstract and a bit more frantic. Before I felt like it was minimal and forms, but now I feel like it’s almost abstract scenes.
I like the idea that it can be abstract and it’s up to that person to interpret it.
Absolutely. There was a piece of work that as soon as I saw it, I was like “Oh, it looks like two people are reaching for the same glass of wine” and then someone else said, “Oh to me, it looks like someone is putting their hand around someone’s back, trying to hold their hand”. I feel like when work is like that, you project your own life onto it.
Are there any particular artists or works you admire?
I will always love Martin Creed. Who has absolutely nothing to do with painting or anything like that. He’s just the most off the wall, weird guy. His work makes quite a lot of people angry and I quite like that. People have a really strong reaction, they think the work is super dumb. I just really that like he doesn’t take himself seriously because I think that’s really important.
In terms of people working locally, Heath Newman is huge for me. I absolutely adore his work. I don’t know how he does what he does. He has complete freedom in his work and it’s just amazing. Also, Charlotte Alldis, who is also Melbourne-based and didn’t even study painting but is a fucking gun. She’s just absolutely wild and her paintings are insane. Also Ajay Jennings, who shares a studio with Charlotte. Their stuff is very free form and figurative. I just feel like they paint as if there’s no pressure on them. It definitely makes the best work.
It makes it so much more difficult when you feel like you’re painting for an audience. You have to create this body of work and it’s going to go into this place and you’re like “Ok, what do people want from me”. I think that’s really dangerous. I really like Heath and Charlotte’s work because they are really amazing at not doing that and that’s why I look up to them.
So then it changes from what it was intended to be.
Yeah because then you’re worrying about who’s going to buy this piece of work and what would they want, when actually it’s completely irrelevant.
You studied Interaction Arts at the Manchester School of Art and Design. How was that course? Did you always know you wanted to study art?
I feel like I was always doing art. I was always my dad’s assistant and always making stuff with my dad. I feel like I’ve always been very practical from a very young age. He was just one of those guys who refused to pay people to do stuff around the house. He would do it all himself (laughs).
I had no idea what I wanted to do so for me, this course was amazing. It was like you can do whatever you want as long as it’s considered art. People were doing textiles, videos, web. My course had some crazy, talented people in it. That was really good but even still, I didn’t pick up a paint brush until I moved to Australia. I had never been a painter. I was making stuff. I guess in the course that I did, painting was seen as a bit of a cop out. Like it was easy? No one painted because what people would say about you behind your back. So I didn’t paint until I moved here and then I guess I only started painting because I couldn’t afford to do anything else. Painting out of a necessity rather than a want to in the initial stages.
Oh right. Did you find that you were naturally good at it?
It was just a more accessible way to say what I wanted to say. The Melbourne art scene is very welcoming and has so many platforms so it was far easier to put my work into it that way rather than any other way.
When you start a new painting, what is your process like?
Before I start a new body of work, I tend to draw shapes very quickly on pieces of paper. Literally like 2-3 seconds very quickly. Like weird, different shapes. I do that for 15-20 minutes, then I’ll look back at those shapes and see the ones I really like or the ones that were horrible. Then if I can group those shapes, they usually work together nicely in a painting so then I’ll use those shapes as a motif.
I tend to draw straight onto a canvas, fairly loosely, over and over again. It looks pretty ugly. There are lines everywhere but then when I feel like I’ve got a good composition, I’ll start thinking about colour, which is almost like the hardest part for me since I’ve never studied painting, I’ve also never studied colour theory either. Hence, my old work had a very limited palette but with this stuff I try not to be so safe so I’ll just try different colours. I go straight on the canvas, waste a lot of paint but kind of just had to see it to see if it worked. I guess that’s what you have to do.
Some people are far more informed in what colours they are using and what they’re putting next to each other. For me, it’s kind of trial and error until it feels right.
The colour palette you used was quite earthy. Are they colours you’re drawn to?
I’m always drawn to earth colours. I like colours like blue but I think they feel a bit man made. In this context anyways. The deep greens, reds and yellows, I think speak to the voice of the work a bit more which is nice.
You’ve also created sculptures made out of wood for the exhibition. How was it creating the sculptures?
I loved doing the sculptures. I did them for the last show and Nathan and Luke were kind enough to help me out last time with studio space and figuring out the logistics. I hate the thought of doing a binary painting show, it doesn’t feel very true to my practice. So I really wanted to do more sculpture for this show. Nathan and Luke were really good for squeezing me in, getting the wood and figuring out what I needed and the best way to do it was.
I took the shapes from some of the pieces which are some of the shapes that make up the sculptures. So the "3-Dness" of the paintings makes them stand on their own as figures and stories. Then to actually sort of remove them from the painting, you can walk around them and interact with them differently which is great.
It brings it to another light.
Yeah. So people would have to walk around them and see them in a different setting and be a bit confusing. The way I put the sculptures together, I try to make it an optical illusion. I want people to look at it and be like “Oh, that structurally makes sense but how is it not tipping over?”. I want it to pose a lot of questions.
I guess it brings it back to the abstract idea.
Like a non kind of structured way of looking at things.
Words by Claire Le
Studio Photos by Sheridan Rothwell
Heimur Studio Photos by Luke Van Aurich