Kelly Murphy is the incredible mind behind Benna co Ceramics. Kelly balances her art practice, co running an art event programme called ‘Three Day Clay’ and raising three gorgeous children. Kelly creates functional ceramic objects informed by the colours and textures of the breathtaking Australian earth. Her work exhibits a unique glazing style which calls on the patterns of vast landscapes while her hand built planters and vessels hold voluptuous shapely forms evoking molten volcanic activity.
“When I began making my own glazes and applying them fluidly, they took on the appearance of worlds of microbes, the seafloor and the natural landscape viewed from a great height.”
Tell us how you came upon your work
I studied painting at VCA back in the days before Instagram. I found it incredibly challenging to make money from my practice and absolutely impossible once babies came into the picture. I packed away the paint brushes soon after the birth of my first baby. Soon after the arrival of my second, whilst on maternity leave from my boring day-job, I began selling vintage furniture and small decorative objects for the home under the name Benna co. This was in the boom-time of early Instagram. I found a faithful audience easily and was able to quit my day job and make a good mama-wage doing something I loved.
When I was heavily pregnant with my third baby I began making ceramic planters as I had been getting so many requests for vintage pieces that I simply couldn’t fill. The very naive, kinda crude versions that I was making were weirdly a hit. It coincided with the realisation that I might not be able to continue the physical labour of restoring furniture and lugging dining tables and sofas around with a newborn – so I began to lean into clay-work.
By the time that third baby was born, I was pinching cups whilst breastfeeding, and growing what would become the Benna co that we know today.
Pictured below – Benna co planters along side painting from Melbourne artist Clare Dubina.
How do you balance running a business and caring for young children?
When I first began working for myself, I simply did what I could with babies on the boob and underfoot. It was all mixed in together and really inseparable. Daycare was a life-saver! I honestly couldn’t have grown my business without it and I feel so lucky to have access to quality child care. My littlest child started big school this year, and now I have a working week that looks almost as normal as anyone else’s!
How did you develop your unique use of glaze?
At first I was using brush-on glazes, and my works appeared as structured agricultural landscapes viewed from above. when I began making my own glazes and applying them fluidly, they took on the appearance of worlds of microbes, the seafloor and the natural landscape viewed from a great height.
I am totally self-taught and draw upon my skills as a painter when approaching glazing. It was much trial and error – I was learning from what the glaze was telling me. Lots of intuitive application and it all just unfolded from there.
Where do you find inspiration for the work that you do?
So much of the inspiration is really in the materials. I may be able to guide the glaze to look a certain way, and to liken the results to elements in the natural world that I admire, but the inspiration is very simply the materials and the infinite ways they can appear with tiny adjustments. I do find our Australian landscape infinitely inspiring with its unique colours and textures. Pink skies, ochre tones, eucalypt greens, charcoal and brilliant blue.
Tell us about your connection to land and how it informs your work.
Everything in the natural world is an absolute wonder. Zoom in or out on anything and you will see multitudes of patterns and colour and worlds. It’s a joy to lose yourself in wonders of a piece of patterned bark or a moth’s wing, the way light filters through leaves or the striations in a tabby cat’s fur. We are so busy as grown-ups in a busy grown-up world that we forget to take pleasure in the magic of everything around us. We could never create art that compares to what the natural world does every day.
What have you learnt most from your practice?
I think my practice has taught me to have faith in myself. It has shown me that I have my own voice and that it has a place in this world.
What or who is motivating you right now?
I co-run a ceramic event program with a couple of mates called Three Day Clay, and the dedication of my partners Kate Brouwer and Kate Bowman is incredibly motivating. Providing the best service to our artists and their dedication to their own practices is something that motivates me.
Seeing the hard work of artists across all genres is great fuel too. Right now I’m enjoying the new works of painters Pia Murphy and Greg Wood – plus digging on the ceramic works of Peta Armstrong. Listening to a bit of instrumental stuff in the studio lately – Nhils Frahm and Alabaster DePlume, and still loving the wacky wonders of Connan Mockasin.
As we personally know, running a business can be serious work. What is something that gets you through the harder days?
Friday night knock-offs with mates are a small pleasure that get me through a tough week.
If I’m lackluster in the studio I will make a pot of really good tea and listen to a podcast while I work. I love ‘You’re Wrong About’ and ‘You Are Good’ for a cheer-up. Sarah Marshall’s voice always makes my heart smile!