Australian artist, designer and fashion icon Jenny Kee will appear at the South Australian Museum on Tuesday, February 2 to present an insight into her love affair with opals – as part of the current Opals exhibition which will conclude on Monday, February 15.
Renowned for her electric, original style and her fusion of art and fashion, Kee is an artist first and foremost, with her love of Australia evident through her work, which features native flowers, birds and opals in her signature graphic style. “Opals have been an inspiration to me for a very long time – they’ve always been part of my design scape because of the vibrancy of the colours and the fact that it’s such an ancient stone but it’s a coloured stone as well,” she says. “I know we’ve got diamonds and all sorts of precious stones in this country but the opal is something so extraordinary,“ she says. “It’s everything that my design scape is all about – brilliant colour and being inspired by the natural world. I think the opal is the most beautiful ancient stone. Its status should be far above diamonds, to see a rainbow trapped in something solid – that to me is mystifying!” Kee’s fascination with opals was evident when her Black Opal print was used by Karl Lagerfeld in his first prêt-a-porter collection for Chanel in 1983 with the print featuring in the shirt dresses and as lining in the suits. Kee describes the moment she met Lagerfeld. “There I was in Italy and I met him – he was so enamoured with the Black Opal print. To have that print with Chanel – there’s definitely something magical about it. Out of all of my prints, he picked the one that I thought was absolutely extraordinary.” In the past 40 years, Kee has worked with a variety of textiles including silk, paper and wool. Most recently, she has been working with Australian designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales of Romance Was Born. “They’re such a creative force and their imagery of prints on prints on prints is very similar to how Linda [Jackson – long time collaborator and friend] and I work. They draw their inspiration from lots of different artists and we’re not the same in any way at all except when they touch on Australia. When they explore the history of Australia – then we’re really coordinated as designers.” With Kee’s iconic Flamingo Park Blinky knit sweater being worn by Princess Diana (part of a knitwear collection that she has currently re-released on her website), she also reminisces about the time David Bowie visited her store in Sydney’s Strand Arcade in 1984 to purchase the Blinky sweater for himself. “I remember! We had to shut the door when he came in – all the Strand young designers were trying to get in.” On his recent passing, Kee describes meeting the singer. “Bowie had his own thing going on. He wasn’t into antique and vintage, he had a different aesthetic and different look. He set that up for himself. He was completely original. “I remember he bought masses of these wooden bracelets. A beautiful bush couple had carved them with waratahs and the Barrier Reef. He just loved them.” Kee has lived a fascinating life; from her night with John Lennon to dinner with Prince Charles and Princess Diana (you can read more of these stories in her autobiography A Big Life) – her passion and enthusiasm is infectious. Currently working on a new series of art, Kee is planning to exhibit the work as part of the 200 Years of Australian Fashion at the National Gallery of Victoria in March this year. “I’m not sure where it’s going to take me just yet but I’m very excited about it. I’ll be working on silk again and I’ve got all these ideas of incorporating songs and words in the print – but how it translates you’ll have to wait to see.” Jenny Kee: Iconic Opals Tuesday, February 2, 6-7pm in the Pacific Cultures Gallery of the South Australian Museum Tickets: $25 per person, includes entry to the Opals exhibition and a glass of wine on arrival. samuseum.sa.gov.au jennykee.com