Holly Macdonald is an emerging ceramic artist based in Sydney, Australia. Her practice combines free-hand drawing and hand-building in clay to investigate the uncertain nature of perception. She approaches the ceramic vessel as a drawing surface using it to hold abstracted imagery developed from direct observation and memory of place. Holly completed her BFA (Ceramics) at the National Art School Sydney in 2014, and was awarded the Sabbia Gallery Exhibition Prize and the Mansfield Ceramic Prize. Since graduating she has participated in a number of group exhibitions including in 2015 the Chippendale New World Art Prize (NG Gallery),Turn Turn Turn: The Studio Ceramics Tradition at the National Art School and Riviera (Saint Cloche). In 2016 her first solo show About Place (Sabbia Gallery) and group shows including Permanent Vacation (ALASKA Projects [William St]) and North Queensland Biennial Ceramic Award (Pinnacles Gallery). Holly has been featured by one of Australia’s foremost design blogs The Design Files and also The Ladies Network. She is a finalist in this years Gold Coast International Ceramic Award, which will take place in late August.
An Interview with Holly Macdonald:
What inspires you to make work? Can you name any particular artists that you look up to?
I am inspired by the idea that everyone is looking at the same world but no two people see that world the same. I see my art practice as a way of telling a story, an abstracted and intuitive story, about the world I am moving through. I am particularly moved by natural landscape although I find plenty of inspiration in urban environments if I am really looking.
I have been lucky enough to study under a number of teachers who are amazing artists in their own right. Tania Rollond, Stephen Bird, Cybelle Rowe and Anthony Cahill to name a few. I look up to these artists and am inspired by them. You know who else I look up to, I look up to my mum, Catherine Hickson. She is a mother, painter, educator, wife, farmer… She wears all these hats and still has the space and energy to encourage my own creative practice. It is so amazing to have the people close to you support and understand where you want to take your life… I am blessed to have that!
What are you investigating through your work? How would you describe your relationship to the work?
I am investigating ways of seeing. I am investigating how we come to embody the places we spend time in. By ‘embody’ I mean how we are affected or altered by a place, what we remember of it and how we remember it. A lot of the the imagery that I paint and draw onto the ceramic surface is drawn from memory. In my most recent body of work, titled ‘About Place’, each work is like a compressed version or annotated version of the experience of a specific place I travelled to in the west of the USA. I represent things like the landscape, the weather, people that I met, conversations that I had, emotional reactions I had to places.
My work is personal. They are like portals to memories, souvenirs of places that I have been to and been marked by. The work is almost autobiographical, although my goal in making is less about telling a linear narrative of my life and more about unearthing insights into the makings of the world around us. I hope that it inspires people to look closer, to notice the detail, to be inspired and uplifted.
What would you consider to be your aesthetic or style, and how does it show itself?
In terms of already established styles maybe Abstract Expressionism. Although that’s a pretty big call on my part! I am probably a bit too attached to the stuff of the real world to be a true Abstract Expressionist. I like putting down fields of colour but then I like to drop in a little detail like a pair of feet or a bottle or a figure. I definitely have a natural style. As in my work all ends up looking like I made it, without me having to try too hard. It comes by virtue of the automatic or intuitive way I work. I would use words like whimsical, wonky, abstracted, organic and delicate to describe my work. I had a writer recently describe my style as “perfect imperfection”. A little cheesy but there is poetry in there somewhere. I liked that.
What do you think makes your work different from other artists?
I think the work comes from an authentic place within me. Everyone is different… If you are given or discover the tools to engage with and offer up your imagination for inspection then the output is bound to be uniquely you.
Although me and being different have a little bit of history. I am an identical twin and so the concept of being different was something I latched onto and worked into my identity very self-consciously from quite early on. I wore blue, my sister wore red (and I never wore red!). I had two plaits, my sister had one plait then I had short hair and she had long hair etc. It was largely about superficial things when we were growing up but I do believe that so much time spent thinking about how I could set myself apart and make myself identifiable at that age when one is developing an individual sense of self marked me deeply.
Are you working on anything right now that you feel is going in a new direction?
With my solo show ‘About Place’ completed the next project I am working on is a group show involving artists from my studio group kil.n.it Experimental Ceramics and artists working in video, textiles and installation. The context is experimental and is an opportunity to expand my practice beyond the traditional format of the ceramic vessel. I am working on some more sculptural wall-pieces in ceramic that have developed from a series of paper and gouache collages I did early this year. Watch this space!
What do you seek to express, capture, or reveal in your work?
It changes from piece to piece and from one body of work to the next. But inevitably I am working towards representing the environments I am moving through, wether they be urban or natural, familiar or unfamiliar. In my most recent body of work it was about representing unfamiliar but memorable natural environments. The ceramic vessels took geographical features as their point of departure. In doing so, the vessels were coiled and pinched into forms that reflected curious and sometimes critical observations of place and culture in the western states of America. I was also satisfying a desire to bridge the gap between inspiring moments in a distant and foreign landscape and the present moment and in this way preserve my memories of these places.
I think my work always seeks to become a souvenir of a place that exists beyond its physical limits.
How do you find the art scene in Sydney, Australia?
It is lively. I am having fun with it. There is plenty of passion eccentricity and talent in the mix. People in Sydney are becoming much more interested in ceramics as an art at the moment too, which suits me!
It does have its flaws. In some ways it can be quite exclusive but then if you are generous and kind with people you generally will get that back. I am lucky enough to have a studio space with a ceramics collective called kil.n.it Experimental Ceramics which encourages all forms of enquiry into clay as a medium for self expression. No judgments passed on what ceramic art is and isn’t. It is all valid and valuable. I am surrounded by a really supportive community in this studio situation and I have access to a kiln and an amazing glaze lab. Access to these resources is a game-changer for a fledgling ceramic artist like myself.
What advise could you give to someone starting their creative career?
Be genuine, be kind and document your work properly!
Can you describe any habits/rituals etc. that you do before you start working?
I like starting the day in silence. Ideas are fresh and clear in the morning and in the quiet I can tune into them fully. I will generally begin by empyting the contents of mind in one of several ways –with words, as quick sketches or doodles or by making a pinch pot. Watering my plants is part of the beginning ritual. But not every day! And coffee.
Everyday. Just one.
Photos:’About Place’ exhibition installed at Sabbia Gallery, Document Photography, Courtesy of artist. (1st, 2nd, and 3rd photos)
Tidal island anecdote, Document Photography, Courtesy of artist.
Land ties, Down into the river, Document Photography, Courtesy of artist.