ANNA-WILI HIGHFIELD | BIANCA SPENDER PORTRAITS
For the latest installment of the Portrait series, we step inside the world of Sculptor, Anna-Wili Highfield. Captured in her Marrickville home, surrounded by her world of eclectic sculptures and art collection, Anna-Wili invites us into her universe and shares her picks from the new collection.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR CRAFT?
“I’m a sculptor. I make pieces from various materials; I try to make each work a spirit portrait of an animal or a person. If it’s an animal, it’s one we can relate to. I like my work to have spaces in it - an economy of form to allow the viewer access to enter the piece and exchange an energy with the sculpture.
Something else I like is making through commission. I like thinking about someone when I am making a piece. I think art is about communication and generosity. If there is that element while I am making the work, there will be a sense of it being for everyone, and the idea of it being a part of other people’s lives.”
YOU’VE WORN BIANCA SPENDER FOR MANY YEARS. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR CONNECTION TO US AND WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT THE PIECES?
“Bianca and I met many years ago. She bought the first sculpture that I exhibited. I had invited her to an opening that was more of a party, and she saw the sculpture and made a b-line across the room. It’s a horse made from copper and the piece is still in Bianca’s home to this day.
What I love about Bianca’s pieces is her ability to make women feel good. I love to wear her suits. Her attention to subtly but with an overall classic nature, with a twist. I feel very confident when I put on her pieces. We’ve known each other for a long time, and she knows instantly what I will like.
We’ve had many conversations about art and the creative process over the years. It’s a deep connection we share.”
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST BIANCA SPENDER CREATION YOU WORE? HOW DID IT MAKE YOU FEEL?
“I don’t remember which one was first, but I have had a black silk suit for many years. It’s a classic shape and it is a suit that always makes me feel chic and comfortable, which always makes me feel safe and confident.”
RELAXED TAILORING IS DISTINCT TO YOUR OWN PERSONAL STYLE. IS THIS SOMETHING YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DRAWN TO?
“I like simplicity. I like good fibres, and something that hangs off my body. I like to wear something that I feel that has an elegance and is covered but shows some of my form. I like to hang everything from a high waist, that’s something every outfit I wear always has!”
YOUR SCULPTURES ARE CREATED IN SOLID MATERIALS, HOWEVER, IMBUE AN INNATE SENSE OF MOTION. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROCESS AND INFLUENCES?
“The materials I use are always ones I can use with my own hands, that can be bent and formed. I like a material that has a resistance, to show me what happens next if it holds its own structure.
My work is very process-led, so I like the material to be involved in my decision-making, the puzzle-solving, and the avenues I like. I can imagine that would be the same with Bianca, working for fabrics. They would help to dictate the next move in the design.”
MANY OF YOUR SCULPTURES FEATURE WITHIN BIANCA SPENDER STORES AND WITHIN BIANCA’S OWN HOME. CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH THIS?
“Bianca and I have a mutual admiration of each other’s work. We both have a lot of each other’s work. There’s something lovely in sharing things you have made with friends.
A lot of the work in my home is by friends. It gives each piece a lovely energy. I think if your friend made something it feels like there’s a little piece of their spirit in it.
That’s lovely for me to wear, and for my spirit to be in Bianca’s home and stores, through the animals.”
ANIMALS FEATURE PROMINENTLY WITHIN YOUR WORK. IS THIS A CONSCIOUS DECISION?
“My work is a portraiture but of a spirit usually, rather than an individual person. I find an animal a more direct subject for a spirit portrait that someone might see themselves as or feel the energy of.
I find the access to a character or an energy more immediate in that way.”
YOUR HOME IS A TREASURE TROVE OF ECLECTIC ARTWORK. DOES YOUR SPACE INFLUENCE YOUR OWN CRAFT?
“It’s interesting, I think it does. With the art in my home, everything is chosen with the same idea in mind. I think it’s what I am naturally drawn to – spaces in an artwork. It’s the same for me with literature, film or music. It’s art that has space for me to enter, it’s information but it’s not all filled in - there’s something strong there that allows for space to enter around it.
The house was built by my friend, Architect, Ana Ciliberto. She approached the making of the house in a very similar way to the way I would make a sculpture. I saw her model making and it was all about a classic shape but then there were angles and forms that are quietly unconventional and filled with light.
For me, light is space. It’s a very small place but she’s made it feel a lot larger for having glass and high ceilings. It’s the perfect place to hang art. She built a vessel for spirit for my family.
Thinking of classic shapes with quietly unconventionally angles. I think Bianca does that beautifully.”
CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH SOME OF YOUR PIECES FEATURED WITHIN YOUR HOME?
“My space has a lot of artworks by friends - there are prints, there are paintings. There’s a lot of Aboriginal art from Maningrida Art Centre and Buku-Larranggay Mulka Centre (13.30) centre, both on Arnhem Land.
A lot of the furniture is also made by friends. My curtains are vintage parachutes that my friend Leah Gidland sewed for me. Everything has been thought about and has come together beautifully.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE A WOMAN LEADING IN YOUR CREATIVE FIELD?
“I feel very lucky and proud that my job is doing what makes my soul feel good – what I would be doing anyway if I wasn’t able to make a living from it. I’ve been quite conscious of not being too ambitious, and just taking little steps as they come.
There’s sincerity in making something for the joy of making it and concentrating on that piece at that time and the ambition of being in the studio to create something that works. There’s always a wrestle and a struggle and a dance before it can be released into the world.
I am proud to be a single mother with my two children and supporting myself through making art. It’s amazing and it’s a huge privilege.”