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Mella Kirkby was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand and moved to Melbourne in late 1999 to study art at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). After graduating from RMIT with a major in painting and minor in printmaking, Mella went on to work in various creative fields before returning to New Zealand and reconnecting with her passion for art.


Mella’s entry into the Parkin Drawing Prize ‘Ginger – Oh, please?!’, is part of her series investigating ‘The Company We Keep’. In these artworks, Mella celebrates the different mannerisms and personalities of the animals around us. Using her high technical skill and understanding of creative concepts she blurs the lines between quirky pet portraits and rich animal character studies to bring their wonderful personalities to life and to deeply connect with the viewer.


Time spent in our ‘bubbles’ during Lockdown 2020, allowed Mella time to really explore the roles animals play in our lives, and how their personalities contribute and add to our surroundings and environment. What is a home without the presence of a pet or animal? The few days prior to Lockdown saw thousands upon thousands of rescued animals find new homes for the Lockdown (and hopefully for the rest of their lives), clearly showing how an animal is often as important to our home as the people, family or other ‘company we keep’.


‘Ginger’ and the other ‘The Company We Keep’ artworks all feature an extensive and skillful use of negative space, which is a significant part of Mella’s style and comes from her appreciation of Eastern art and design aesthetics, as well as Mella’s interest in what the Japanese call ‘Ma’ (the space in between). This use of negative space also shows how it is often what is left out of an artwork that enables the viewer to fully focus and connect with the core subject.


The decision to ‘go big or go home’ with the size of ‘Ginger’ was based on Mella’s long-held desire to produce an artwork that really invites the viewer in and fully utilises the gallery wall, while also fully bringing the subject matter in the viewers or audiences immediate environment. With a floor to ceiling canvas height of 2330mm (minus 70mm for the skirting board), this artwork will fit into most New Zealand homes, with the artists intention of really making ‘Ginger’ part of ‘The Company We Keep’.


“I have a very vivid recollection of traveling up the escalator at MoMA in New York back in 1998, past the artwork “The City Rises” by Umberto Boccioni. The immense size of the artwork made it so that I felt I was there, in the painting! If my artworks can go someway towards making the viewer feel a real connection with the subject matter, and really ‘bring it home’ for them, then I’ll feel I have accomplished my goal. This huge canvas is just the start of my artistic adventure into large scale artworks…”


Mella’s drrawing practice is inspired by the charcoal and printmaking of Jim Dine, the drawings and artworks of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, as well as the works of Egon Scheile, Lucian Freud and numerous others…


The Parkin Drawing Prize offers New Zealand artists such as Mella an opportunity to really push their artistic practice, with the aim of reaching a larger audience with their ideas and continuing their growth and success as an artist.


“New Zealand needs the Parkin Drawing Prize in order to draw artists out from under their rocks and out of their comfort zones in the hope of securing a career changing arts prize”


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