Newcastle Hunter Valley
Anchorage Mothers
Anchorage Mothers

Kristy & Justin on Divergent Interpretations

cstudios Art Gallery | 6-27 April

Kristy & Justin on Divergent Interpretations Image


We’ve met Kristy Elley of helloHOLT many times over the years. Her bubbly, sweet-as-pie personality is a little infectious and hard to forget. So when we heard news of a HOLT art exhibition, together with friend and fellow Newcastle artist Justin Lees, we had an excuse to catch up and find out a little more.

Meeting Kristy and Justin at C Studios Art Gallery on Hunter St, the pair talked us through their upcoming exhibition - Divergent Interpretations, and just what’s involved in pulling it all together.
Divergent Interpretations


Hi again, great to catch up and congrats on your upcoming exhibit. Is this your first exhibition?

KRISTY: It’s my first exhibition in many, many years, and my first ever in Newcastle! I was based in the Hunter Valley from 2005 - 2010, and then took a little sideways step to establish and run a café, so have spent the past few years back in full time art practice to build my profile in Newcastle.

JUSTIN: I’ve had a few works in group shows at galleries such as Gallery 139 etc. but this will be my first main one since moving back from Melbourne roughly 10 years ago. Work and family became my priority (maybe even in that order at times, which totally fucking sucks) but changing my work and lifestyle to focus on my family and myself was the catalyst to really start painting more often, and the time seemed about right to step out of my comfort zone and put a solid amount of work together.

Divergent Interpretations opens on April 6 here at C Studios on Hunter St. Can you explain what Divergent Interpretations means in relation to the exhibit?

KRISTY: Well, let’s say if it wasn’t called Divergent Interpretations, it could have been ‘The Villain and The Saint’…Haha. Justin and I are similar in many ways….We’re both born and bred Novocastrians, we’re the same age, and we share a real drive to express ourselves through creative pursuits. But our experience of life couldn’t be more opposite - from our upbringings, to our inspiration, to our levels of rebellion as teenagers and young adults (pick which of us was the naughty one!). Divergent Interpretations celebrates these differences, and the influence they have on our artworks.


It's the quiet ones that you've usually got to look out for would be my answer to your question. Anyway we'll leave that there. Kristy, you have your own studio in Mayfield, which is a kind of gallery in itself, but how big a deal is exhibiting your work at a gallery such as C-Studios?

KRISTY: Exhibiting in a gallery is a big deal! It’s broader exposure, and often has eyes of art collectors on your works. I think people who visit galleries are usually more open to the breadth of creativity out there, and looking to connect to an artist or subject matter. In contrast, my studio tends to be (in addition to my workspace) more of a retail space, where purchases are more spontaneous and maybe driven by interior design trends. I guess exhibiting in a gallery is an opportunity for me to showcase a body of works that come together to convey my thought processes and the meaning behind each piece - my little studio doesn’t really have the space for that!
Divergent Interpretations

How are the nerves? Are either of you anxious type of people or are you both happy with how the lead up to the exhibition is going?

KRISTY: The level of anxiety changes every day! I’m fighting the nerves, and also fighting perfection! Overthinking does me no favours in the creative process. I think I’ve done well to enjoy the journey, and have let it naturally flow into what I think is now a really cohesive collection. All my works in the exhibition have been created for ‘Divergent Interpretations’.


JUSTIN: I’m a pretty anxious person most of the time, especially when it comes to art or design work. There’s always that element of self-doubt with me. Right now I’m more focused on having everything ready and finished on time, but I think the nerves will rise come Friday/Saturday. A few beverages down the road at The Family might be in order just to settle those nerves come Saturday arvo I think. Then plenty more at the Falcon after!

You have quite different art styles, how did this art collab come about?

KRISTY: My wife Tanille (TJ) and Justin have been good friends for over 20 years. Justin was giving us a hand last year on some designs for our collective space, Muster Point, and Tanille saw some of Justin’s recent promo work. She was being cheeky initially and hit him up to co-exhibit, thinking he’d say no way. When he didn’t brush it off, we decided to lock him in. The rest is history!

JUSTIN: Yeah TJ might have caught me off guard one day, more than likely after I’d had a few, haha, and she hit me up and I said yes. Nah it’s actually been quite good to have Kristy there. I think it eases the pressure and some of the nerves for each other. So it’s been great and as you said we are different styles, and are known to completely different people, so being able to show to a whole new audience, for the both of us, is a great opportunity.


When you first decide to exhibit your work how do you even go about getting started on the collection?

KRISTY: This was actually a bit tough initially. I had so many ideas, and had the name of the exhibition as a starting point. Because of where I am in my life (nearing 40 I seem to search for meaning in everything! Lol), I knew my works had to be representative of connection and relationships. I then played with different symbols to represent relationships, and quite quickly a shape appeared that has now flowed through each piece in my collection.

JUSTIN: In the past I’ve had no real sense of direction when painting, so coming back I thought I’d try something different. I’m constantly listening to music in the background - working, painting, shopping… I’d even listen to music to go to sleep. I’ve always loved how songs can trigger little memories, how they can compliment sights and create certain feelings and emotions within people. So now I sit down and create playlists based on a general feeling of how I want these paintings to go.

Then to keep that theme throughout the whole body of work, I’ll only listen to that playlist whilst painting so it carries that main theme throughout, which may even just be a certain colour or two. Then I let these sounds take me where ever, whether that be back to a memory of hearing that song growing up, or just getting lost in the tempo of the song. It’s like creating the perfect soundtrack to your movie so to speak. So for this I’ve used a lot of longer songs, and ambient sounds which I think have come through nicely.

Kristy, we’re quite familiar with your style of art. What can we expect from the Divergent Interpretations collection?

KRISTY: This collection is quite different to anything I’ve ever done before. It’s still within my monochromatic style, but I’ve stepped away from the female portraiture that I’ve been best known for in the past couple of years. I’ve moved to a more primitive style, featuring hints of oxide and even using found objects as tools in some cases. I’ve played with abstract, figurative and landscape styles that each come together through shared representations of connection.

Justin told us all about his works in a recent interview we did with him here.



How long will the exhibition be running for?

Three weeks…From 6 April to 27 April.

Do you have any other exciting plans coming up for the rest of 2019.

KRISTY:. I expect the rest of 2019 will see more time to play with ideas of repurposing and using more natural, found objects in the creative process wherever possible. The ‘Divergent Interpretations’ collection includes some repurposed vessels that I’ve painted, which I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve been overwhelmed with orders (yay!) for my continuous line portraits, which I hope will continue throughout the year…But I’m also hoping to find some space in my week to play, and experiment with painted works and see what my next collection develops into.

JUSTIN: It’s actually a pretty big year for me. After the show, I start work on a piece for the HMRI Ball, which I’ve donated to for the last couple of years. This year they have asked me to be the feature artist, which I’m so grateful for. I’m going to start work with Mitch Revs at his art dork studios and hopefully curate some shows there, which will be great. I have a bit of design work on which is always handy, and will hopefully have another exhibition later in the year. In between all that, and more importantly, my partner Leah and I are getting married. So a few exciting plans coming up I guess.

Thanks for your time, we’re looking forward to checking out the exhibition this weekend.


Cstudios Art Gallery
Newcastle West 2302
Exhibition Dates:
6 April to 27 April
Opening Night opens 4pm
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