Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with artist Sarah Keenan-Jones, 33, Champaign
Q: What will you be showing at the Anita Purves Nature Center next month?
A: My exhibit is called "Winging It," and it's an exhibit of two bodies of work.
One is about birds — those are made from recycled paper on canvas. The second is insects, and that's also made of recycled paper, stamps, atlases, magazines, photos and old books as well.
Q: Do you make a lot of your art using recycled materials?
A: I try to. It sort of naturally happened. I'm really into secondhand things — clothing, homeware — you name it.
Q: What did you study at the National Art School in Sydney, Australia?
A: I majored in ceramics, and I didn't work with paper at all for years. I had to stop doing ceramics when I got pregnant. I was worried about the chemicals.
I moved to the U.S. when my baby was 6 months old. I lost my studio in Sydney, so I had to find an art form I could practice at home. Paper seemed a really obvious decision or path.
The art school I went to really believed in drawing as a foundation skill, and so drawing has always been part of my art practice. With my ceramics work, I would make vessels and then draw on the outside of them, mainly birds, when it was figurative. Then I started doing bird sculptures with ceramics.
Q: Why birds?
A: I really love animals. I don't particularly like birds more than any other animal. I just like to draw them. I find they have really pleasing shapes and I can give them strong expressions.
Q: Why and when did you move here from Australia?
A: I moved here in February 2012. The reason was my husband (Duncan Keenan-Jones) got a post-doc job in archaeology at the University of Illinois in the classics department. We're actually leaving in May. We really don't know what the future holds because he's applying for jobs all over the world.
Q: How do you like this weather?
A: I love this weather. It's so novel. It's a foreign experience because we don't have snow in Sydney.
Q: Are you still represented by a gallery in Australia?
A: No, I'm not. I did have a relationship with a gallery in Sydney when I was a ceramics artist. It was specifically a ceramics gallery.
Q: Were you always interested in art?
A: Yes, even when I was in grade school, and I did very well with it. I actually started out doing a degree in design when I left school. I decided it wasn't for me and threw the towel in and decided to study social work because that was an interest of mine. I did that and worked for seven years as a social worker with homeless women in Sydney.
Once I did that I knew I really had to go back to my art because I knew I would be desperately unhappy if it was something I never achieved. So when I worked as a social worker I was studying for an art degree at the National School of Art.
Q: You received three arts awards back in Australia. Which is the most significant to you?
A: The Sabbia Gallery Award. That's the ceramics gallery that sort of took me under its wing. They give that award to a graduating senior in the National School and then give them a show at the gallery and do everything for you.
I shared the award with another student because the gallery director couldn't decide who to give it to.
Q: I noticed you've also curated shows. Have you done any here?
A: I did some curating for the Boneyard Arts Festival, for the "Remembering Nhu" exhibition. It had 30 artists and was a big undertaking.
Q: Besides Anita Purves Nature Center, will you be showing your work anywhere else around here?
A: Yes, at the Hatch Exhibition from Feb. 28 through March 15 at the Indi Go Artist Co-op in Champaign.
Editor's note: "Winging It" will be shown Feb. 8 through April 30, with the opening reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 15, at the Anita Purves Nature Center, 1505 N. Broadway, U.