A project by NELL


For me, art and music are simultaneously essential and mysterious. When I'm in my studio listening to music and dreaming artworks into existence, I'm still the teenager in my bedroom doing exactly the same thing. Nothing has changed. Of course, I wanted to be a rock star. But deep down I knew I was an artist.

In the pre-digital world, records, band T-shirts and posters were treasures – hard to come by and expensive. I kept and organised my concert tickets. I leapt up on stage to grab setlists or begged roadies to give them to me. More than just souvenirs, these were precious artefacts that became personal devotional items.

Like millions of young people before me, I was obsessed with the aesthetics of popular music, from the fonts on album covers to the music videos. It was a whole universe to make art about. When I started art school in the early 90s, song lyrics and song titles provided the inspiration and content for paintings. But I wasn’t yet ready to give up my precious music ephemera to my artworks.

From 2012 I began to incorporate objects with previous musical lives into my artworks – band T-shirts, musical instruments, drumsticks, album covers, vinyl records, guitar strings, guitar picks, guitar cases, amplifiers and road cases.

Crucially, these relics of sound were once loved, played or worn. I worship and fetishise the history and energy of these objects and channel that into their next life as an artwork. Let's just say every amp is a readymade plinth!

Please enjoy my RELICS of SOUND

Always a fan,

Artist Biography

Nell’s artistic practice is multifaceted and interdisciplinary - traversing painting, sculpture, performance, installation, video, wearables, collaborations, community projects and public art. Underpinning all her work is an exploration of the thresholds of binary opposites such as the ancient and contemporary, individual and communal, feminine and masculine, sacred and profane etc. From an Australian vantage point, she uses the language of art history, popular music and spiritual traditions to amplify the tensions or marry the differences between these binary positions, so that new objects and rituals are born. 

Nell studied at Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney, The University of California, Los Angeles and École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Her work has been included in over 300 exhibitions. Nell lives and works on Gadigal land in Sydney, loves rock 'n' roll and is represented by STATION, Melbourne and Sydney.

Donate to the Sydney Opera House

Art and words by NELL - @nellartist 
Edits by Dominic Ellis & Micheal Do

Read more about Contemporary Art and Contemporary Music at the Sydney Opera House

Image and artwork credits

ROCK GATE, 2019 
Marshall amplifiers, steel, wood, acrylic paint, performance instructions  
416 x 452 x 115cm 
Photo: Zan Wimberley 

Marshall amplifiers, steel, wood, acrylic paint, performance instructions
416 x 452 x 115cm
Photo: Jenni Carter

with Bec Machine from BabyMachine 
single‐channel digital video, 16:9, colour.  
Videography: Tina Havelock Stevens Sound: Ingrid Rowell.  
Commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre 
Photo: Zan Wimberley

Ghost Songs (black), 2019 
Marshall amp, hand blown glass 
overall: 66.8 x 38.2 x 23.9cm 
2 parts 
Photo: Jenni Carter

The Six Strings That Drew Blood, 2012
guitar strings, glass, crystal
4 × 23 × 23cm 
Photo: Jenni Carter

AC/DC concert, Sydney, 2015
Photo: Penny Lane