"Thinking with my hands, thinking spatially. The moment when a radical move creates a pathway to the right form." These are the parts of sculptor Anna-Wili Highfield's creative process that she enjoys the most. Those hands have managed to carve a niche for herself in the international art world over the last ten years by crafting her now-signature ethereal, intricate sculptures of wild animals. The daughter of a puppeteer, her upbringing surrounded by art has played a large role in influencing her work today. "I think seeing artists of a generation that were quite purist struggle financially has made me want to do what I can to make a living from art. To make works by commission and to serve a client when the opportunity is there has been a conscious decision," she explains when we meet one morning in her St Peters studio. "I'm lucky to have been around creative people my whole life and have seen it as an obvious path."
"I think a balance is good, but if you can make art your job then you're constantly in training to execute any idea that inspires you."
A graduate of the National Art School ("[art] was always really the only thing that stood out for me, and to others about me - teachers, adults, etc.") and former scenic artist for Opera Australia, Highfield began crafting her own works from paper when she was pregnant with her daughter and wanted to create something unique for her room. While she strives to keep her art and parenthood separate entities, she acknowledges the profound impact being a mother has had on her practice. "Mothering has probably made me a better artist - you need to have other things going on that you care about or one can become too ambitious and crazied by the the art world, which isn't grounding. So, yeah, family as an anchor is great." As with any creative pursuit, it is almost impossible to know when a work is truly complete. For Highfield, it is the moment when "the balance is there, and it's rough or raw enough still to sing out. Something happens and I know, OK, it's here. It's like it lives. It's been struggling or we've been struggling, me and the form, and then, bam, it looks effortlessly alive."
"I'm not an artist who waits for inspiration, I'm of the Picasso mind, when inspiration visits, let it find me working. It’s the best way for me."
"I find art making a very solo, transcendental pursuit ... reaching into a void and connecting into some kind of ether where the ideas and spirits are."
"Music is pretty constant in my studio. I love working to film scores because they allow for the visuals and have energy building rhythms."
"Sunlight seems joyful, can I call light a form of joy? It can bring it."
Highfield's success lies in her ability to make motionless forms feel utterly alive. There is a lightness and a breath to her works, restrained and tactile, that allude to movement - as though the animals could at any moment bound free from their home and take flight. In her most recent exhibition, Spirit Faces, held at New York's Olsen Gruin gallery in March this year, Highfield expanded on her animal menagerie to include depictions of the human form. "All my animals are self-portraits, spirits of myself and all of us really. The humans were just an extension of that, but if I had made them generic people it would be too easy. So I made them myself and that gave it a challenge and a resonance. They are me in character, which is essentially what the animals are too," she explains. "Having my first solo show earlier this year ... made me develop a lot, creating a room of forms that related to one another. Creating that conversation between my sculptures articulated for me what it was all about. The themes that had persisted for so long formed a conceptual body in the gallery space." When she is not in her studio, it is the simple and intangible pleasures in life that bring Highfield the most joy: "Nature, art, beauty and harmony in form and composition, the cracks in things, the awkward, laughing and touching and the silly. The unexpected that is laughably serendipitous, how there does seem to be a something we can't explain ever present. The unknown and the truths."
"Joy means lightness, being in and outside of a moment and your body, sharing."
PHOTOGRAPHY Kelly Geddes @ Vivien’s Creative
FASHION Billie Iveson
TALENT Anna-Wili Highfield
HAIR & MAKEUP Teneille Sorgiovanni @ Lion Management using Dior Backstage