Melbourne-based artist Montana Kitching uses her intimate, confessional illustrations of women to foster visibility and acceptance of mental health. Gaining inspiration from her creative upbringing, Montana has forged her artistic path in her own non-traditional way. We recently had a chat about her family, her decision to forgo university, mental health, and more.
MINNA GILLIGAN: Hi Montana! You’ve acknowledged before that you’re from an “artistic family”. Can you elaborate on that?
MONTANA KITCHING: Yes! Both of my parents are incredible artists. Dad is a graphic designer and mum had a ceramic painting business while we were growing up. Mum used to have Lazy Susans out on the dining table, painting plates and mugs and bowls while dad had his easel out painting huge portraits. We weren’t ever that focused with toys and video games and television because we were constantly drawing and imitating our parents. I feel so lucky to have had such an inspiring and art enriched upbringing.
You’re currently based in Melbourne, Australia (like me!). What is it about Melbourne that you respond to, or, don’t respond to? Do you thrive in your geographic location, or, like many Australians, yearn to be elsewhere?
I love Melbourne to be honest. It’s just home to me. My family is all here and that’s my biggest source of artistic inspiration. I loved Berlin though when I went and felt a similar artistic pull there. I don’t know I think there is a lot going on all the time too, in Melbourne! Always local artists exhibiting and selling cheap zines! It’s such a great culture here.
Were there particular reasons for not going to university to study art? Was there something about an institutionalized practice you wanted to avoid?
Argh! This is a constant internal battle. To go to uni and study art or to not??? I never really did art classes at school because of the pressure. My older brother is like next level talented and I felt a pressure to be as good as him and my parents (also typical middle child, [Laughs]). I learned everything I know from my family and my inspirations and I also know that if I go to art school I’ll probably be critiqued super heavily and told that everything I do is *technically wrong*. I feel like my style has developed to, “How I like it.” [Laughs] Maybe I’m stubborn. Maybe art school would allow me to expand my practice. I actually studied nursing and midwifery though just P.S.
Your work explores themes of girlhood, anxiety, self-doubt, and body image. Most of your figure drawings are “narrated” with short, sharp, poetic text pieces surrounding these themes. Are these texts autobiographical?
They are yeah. Nearly all of my drawings are projections of my mind, my fears, my anxiety, and my shame. They are all my words in someone else’s body. The bodies and faces I use have been built around the feelings that I’m trying to release—the posture, the colors around the eyes and the noses, the facial expressions.
There is a huge community online of women coming together and forming social media support systems to combat mental illness. Would you consider yourself a part of this movement? What is valuable to you about hearing other people’s struggles with and triumphs over mental illness?
I would love to consider myself part of this movement. I feel honored that you would even ask me that. I think I’m still not known enough to really think I’m contributing that much, but that’s the dream.
Continuing on from the above question, what is valuable to you when sharing your own experiences online? Is it simply the fact that others relate and you are able to feel “less alone” (for lack of a more nuanced phrase!)?
It’s so valuable when people message me saying they relate to my work, or reposting my drawings on their social medias. One, because it makes me also feel less alone in my personal struggles. Two, because it’s so rewarding to think that my art can make others feel safe and reassured. Three, which is perhaps the most important, is just even the act of sharing one of my drawings /or anything about mental health and struggles/triumphs is a really vulnerable and brave act. Reposting things seems really insignificant but at the same time, it’s opening a little window of yourself and speaking out and even the first step to asking for help for a lot of people.
A lot of your practice seeks to normalize (normal!) things like periods, body hair, self-loathing, instability, mood-swings and tears to name a few! What drew you to the cause of championing these historically underrepresented and swept-under-the-rug facets of existence?
I think a couple of things really. First and foremost, I think my own personal struggle and shame and confusion surrounding these themes. I wish I had access to art or readings that reassured me and normalized these themes when I was growing up and experiencing extremities in my anxiety and moods.
When I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder I felt really embarrassed and confused because the doctor told me all the physical things I was experiencing were “In my head,” and it was, “Just anxiety.” He minimized my very real struggle and I hope that my art can make others in the same position feel understood. I mean, how many times do we all hit up Google with things like “Feel dizzy but have had lots of food and water am I dying?” or “Period blood isn’t bright red do I have ovarian cancer?” Fuck online forums, they make us feel reassured 60% of the time, but the other 40% of the time we are just left going, “Cool…I’m not normal.”
Do you identify a hopefulness in your work? On the surface your realities seem a little dark, but personally, I see your practice as existing in order to facilitate elements of healing in yourself and your audience. Could you comment on this?
Wow, I feel like that question really summarizes my practice hey. I’m terrible with finding words to describe how I feel, hence why I turn to illustration, but that I can really agree on. They can be dark yes, but also that’s the point. I intend to lighten quite heavy and dark themes so that people feel more comfortable discussing them. Reposting or tagging your friend in a bright quirky hip illustration about crippling anxiety is received way better than if it were a paragraph of text about the chemicals in our brains and how mental illness is often associated with awful stigma.
Could you tell me about some of your forays into sculptural work? Like your “Breast friends” earrings? What prompted you venture into the three-dimensional?
I work in an art shop and oh my God, the things I buy and collect and never touch. I had so much polymer clay sitting on my desk and one morning was performing a self breast-check and was like, “OMG, I’m gonna make earrings and do a give-away to encourage people to check their breasts for lumps.” And that’s where it started! I’d love to play with ceramics a bit more but I just don’t really have the time, unfortunately.
Materially, how do you go about making a drawing? What are your go to methods and materials?
My drawings are done on Bristol paper which is thick, bleed-proof paper that’s super smooth. Then I just pencil in the body of the illustration, do the line work and color it all in with copic markers! I don’t plan the colors or anything like that, and as I said re: art school, technically my shadows and shading is completely inaccurate.
Could you tell me some of your current sources of inspiration?
Currently—my parents, sister LouLou Kitching and brother Maddison Kitching. My grandma—she is an incredible oil painter. Forever Frida Kahlo, what a woman honestly. Also people to look up on the web, Milena Huhta, Kristen Liu-Wong, Laura Callaghan, Eero Lampinen. MY GOSH there are so many more!
What are your aims for your art practice and yourself in the future?
I’m hoping to finish the book I’m working on at the moment about puberty and growing up—stay tuned. And I would love to exhibit and take my art internationally!
Could you give me three “famous last words” to describe your artwork?