“The physicality of space doesn’t really matter because it’s never stopped me making,” Alice says from the paint-speckled, colour-filled studio at her home in Adelaide, where she has been creating her art for the past six years.
“Before that, I was in a shared warehouse kind of situation, I think with 17 other people, and before that under a verandah or on the kitchen table,” she adds, laughing.
“Probably for the vast majority of my creative career, I haven’t had the luxury of no wind blowing through the space while I work, but it certainly hasn’t stopped me.
“I mean, it helps as a facilitator, obviously, when you’re not getting rained on, [but] the studio is almost like a construct for me. Like, it’s a beautiful space, but it’s just the being in the moment with the materials that is crucial – the actual architecture falls away.”
This innate desire to create, no matter the circumstances, has always been within Alice.
“I just don’t see any other option for me, in my language. I’ve always just had like an obsession with making, whether it’s with paint, drawing or playing with the food on my plate. It’s always just been part of my everyday, to muck about with stuff.
“I’m 43, and I still feel like a total kid in a sandpit, or in a puddle of mud when I’m out here. I’m easily distracted, but I call that ‘curiosity’.”
As a result of this curiosity, mucking around or getting distracted, Alice works with a wide range of media: painting, ceramics, works on paper and sculpture. She says they all speak to each other – not necessarily from an aesthetic viewpoint, but in terms of their materiality.
“In particular, the clay and the paint have a really symbiotic relationship, because they both have a plasticity to them, a flexibility to them.”
Alice says the subject of her work is deeply personal and private, but explains that it is the result of a fusion of realistic and abstract art, metaphor, symbols and contrasts.
“I’m exploring ideas and my experience of life, and expressing myself and asking lots of questions through that.
“I am interested in contrasts; the bits in between where these things have interesting conversations with each other – real and imagined, chaos and control, dark and light, static and shifting.
“I like the idea of magic realism, where you’ve got like a real situation, but you infuse it with magic. It can be just even the magic that you actually do experience in the everyday. Even the idea of the play of light, and how that can make something feel infused with something really spectacular and special.”
These have been consistent themes and points of exploration for Alice over her entire career, but a profound shift occurred in her practice after she was awarded the 2022 Guildhouse Catapult Mentorship with esteemed international artist William Mackinnon.
“It sparked a shift in my direction, just with how I approach the two-dimensional surface in particular, because that’s been the focus with William, because he’s a painter,” says Alice.
“I know that’s going to influence my three-dimensional work, as well. But there’s been a really good challenge and learning around pushing and pulling and playing and thinking more about shifts in tempo, thinking of the two-dimensional surface in a more sculptural way.
“On the surface, I’m using drawing materials as well as painting materials. I’m using an electric sander; putting lots of paint on, taking lots of paint off. There are lots of different techniques, so that feels like sculpture as well.”
One of the strong points about the mentorship for Alice was learning to understand how material and method holds potency in terms of metaphor not only for the makers, but for the audience as well.
“It’s not just metaphor in the subject matter, but the actual thinking about metaphor in the material that you choose, and metaphor in the method that you use to get that material happening,” she says.
“Everything has meaning or potential to have a lot of meaning, whether you’re scratching or scraping or throwing, or, you know, being really careful or taping an edge or working an edge. All those things can have this kind of symbolic connotation to stories in your life.”
While so much of Alice is in her work, she also holds her cards close to her chest.
“People don’t need to know everything,” she says, explaining that viewers often have no idea about the content that is in the final artworks, “… but they can still be really pleasurable and interesting for people to put their own story onto”.
One motif Alice does offer insight into is her “wrangly lines” – parasite-looking creatures that are recur in many of her works.
“They can evoke all sorts of feelings and they should be maybe slightly uncomfortable – they might have a little bit of a surreal element to them.
“To me, they suggest searching or seeking something out, so it’s moving in shape, slightly, like shifting through the space. That represents my own ponderings, finding my way through something that I’m going through.”
At its core, that’s what creating is for Alice: an escape, solace, and way of processing everyday life.
“Thank God I’ve got painting,” she remarks. “I just keep making because I can’t stop.”
Eleanor Alice is one of 16 visual artists, craftspeople and designers selected to take part in Guildhouse’s 2022 Catapult Mentorship Program. Read more about the program here.
In the Studio is a regular series presented by InReview in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Guildhouse. The series shares interesting stories about South Australian visual artists, craftspeople and designers, offering insight into their artistic practices and a behind-the-scenes look at their studios or work spaces. Read our previous stories here.
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