When South Australian artist Beth Kay is getting work ready for an exhibition nowadays, she composes then renders all her work in batches.

“It allows me to have fun at each step of the process,” the Mount Gambier-based artist said.

Then she heads outside, sets up the painting, walks over to her gun, takes aim, and fires.

Then the artwork is finished.

Despite the abstract and sometimes brightly coloured designs, Kay says they still function as a target.

“There’s lots of extra fun to them in my opinion … but there’s still an uninterrupted circle that is the functional target of the piece,” she says.

“While there’s lots surrounding it and lots that makes it interesting to look at, I still wanted to have that functionality of it.”

Her collection, named The Feminine Art of Shooting, is currently being exhibited at the Riddoch Arts and Cultural Centre — her second exhibition in her home city.

Beth Kay’s view down the sight at one of her artistic targets.(Supplied: Beth Kay)

Combining art and sport

While she was raised in the country, Kay, 22, got into the world of fine art studying at RMIT in Melbourne.

But a move back home during COVID-19 lockdowns helped shape her work.

“I was seeing my boyfriend, who’s now my husband, and he’s interested in shooting and invited me to come along,” she says.

“It was fascinating to me — it’s something I’d never been included in before so it was really cool to experience something new. 

“I’m a little bit of a thrillseeker, so it’s fun to have a new experience, try something different, something a bit out of the ordinary.”

Kay says her early target attempts were difficult to see from a distance.(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

Kay’s initial steps towards melding her art and the sport were borne more out of necessity.

“I don’t have a printer, but one night I wanted to go shooting with my husband and I was like, ‘I’ll just draw some, it’s circles on paper, right?'” she says.

“So I drew some circles on paper and I was like, ‘What if I drew them like this, or what if I did this instead?’ 

“It just grew from there, and then the designer in me thought, ‘Oh my goodness, the possibilities are endless.'”

Beth Kay’s shooting targets are made out of a variety of materials.(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

Work inspired varied reactions

When Kay let her experimentation with targets overlap with her fine art studies, it inspired some interesting responses from her tutors.

“Initially they were like, ‘Oh, but safety. Are you OK though?’ and I’d say it’s fine,” she says.

“A lot of the readings of my artwork when I brought it to my university were readings of violence or things like that, but it’s actually a very meditative sport.

“You have to be very calm when shooting to actually shoot well, which is one of the misconceptions, but it is understandable with a lot of the publicity and media around shooting.

“But in a regional area where it’s done safely and as a sport, it’s actually very controlled. 

“I thought it was interesting to take that controlled sport version of it and use it in mark-making in art. 

“There are a couple of other people who do that, and they do a great job, but not the way that I’m doing it at the moment.”

The RMIT-trained artist says that, like art, shooting can be “very meditative”.(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

Looking through a unique lens

While other artists do use guns for mark-making, Kay says her work was created through her personal lens.

“Obviously there’s been heaps of people who have been involved in the sport for a long time, including women, so I know this isn’t just about my femininity and my womanhood,” she says.

“It’s also about my creativity and my design background and all those coming together to meld it.

“I wouldn’t have been able to make this work if I hadn’t moved back to the South East. I wouldn’t have been exposed to it. 

“But I also wouldn’t have been able to do it if I hadn’t moved to Melbourne either. 

“It took all the events lining up for me to be able to make this work. 

“If my life had changed in any way I wouldn’t have made it.”

Beth Kay’s exhibition, The Feminine Art of Shooting, is showing in her home city of Mount Gambier.(ABC South East SA: Josh Brine)

More to explore

Kay’s exhibition opened last month, alongside works from Natalya Hughes and early 20th-century artist Clarice Beckett. 

“I have talked to a couple of people from the public [on opening night] … and that was super fun to just chat to people,” Kay says. 

“There were some people who themselves had done shooting and so they found the work really fascinating.”

After the exhibition ends on July 28, Kay plans to take a creative break but is not ruling out taking aim at her art again in the future.

“I’ve been doing this for about three years now on this one concept,” she says.

“I think there’s still more to be explored at some point. 

“Whether that will be what I do next or that will be what I do in like 20 years, I don’t know, but I do think there’s still more there.”

Get our local newsletter, delivered free each Friday