People often say that Scorpios are passionate and resourceful. These are two traits that Australian artist Anna-Wili Highfield holds unquestionably. Stitching together cotton rag washed with watercolor, she creates creatures and animals that seem so real they are but a breath away from life. The daughter of a puppeteer and a stylist, her earliest memories of art involve inimitable artists like Frida Kahlo, possessive of a feminine strength that Anna-Wili, too, can boast. She seems to draw inspiration from everything and remains open to her innate skill; it is as if the spirit of each animal prescribes how she then molds and forms them. Her tiny birds are light and nimble, her wolves mythic and shy, her kangaroos robust and alert and her horses (of which she fashioned a herd for Hermès) expressive of wild movement and liberty.
An avid listener of Nick Cave, with the words of Patti Smith her current read, one can only guess the thoughts and stories she spins in her mind and the sensibility she must possess. She believes in a common spirit between animals and humans, our connection to nature mutual, challenging and vital. Perhaps taking a tentative step closer to nature is what we need to do. To embrace mysteries, savour our own strengths, remain patient with our fragilities and know that each morsel of life is as unique and sacred as any other… And may Anna-Wili lead this pack.
Sophie Flecknoe: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself? How would you describe who you are? What are you earliest memories of art?
Anna-Wili Highfield: I’m an artist. I make sculptures [of animals] from cotton rag that I sew together. My creatures represent our connection to nature and a common spirit between humans and animals in the wild. My earliest memory of art is being terrified by a Frida Kahlo poster my dad hung in the bathroom…
You’re the daughter of both a puppeteer and a stylist. Are there any moments from your childhood that have influenced your practice today?
I think watching my dad’s puppets come to life through his movements is a clear influence.
Can you walk me through the creation of one of your paper animals? Do you do any preliminary sketches? Or is it something more impulsive than that?
I never do preliminary drawings. I don’t want the drawing to take the immediacy out of the work. A drawing is an artwork in itself [so] I rely on being open to new avenues through working with my materials.
Can you tell me about your collaboration with Hermès last year? How did this come about?
I’ve been making works for Hermès on and off for around five years now. We have a great relationship. They are an amazing institution based in handcraft and elegance for over a century and it was a great privilege to work with them. I was surprised at how open they are to ideas and it was all very fun.
Earlier this year saw you exhibiting as part of Semi Permanent at Carriageworks in Sydney. The installation was very powerful and used light as a focal point. What were you hoping to convey through this installation?
An energy and momentum and drama coming from fragmented forms. The spirit and greatness of horses moving together from minimal abstracted forms. I think we are all in awe of horses, so they were the animals I wanted to work with for a big installation like this.
What is your favourite animal? Or to what animal does your soul connect?
I love ravens. They are elegant and clever with a sense of humour and don’t mind getting dirty to feed themselves.
What is the first thing you reach for in the morning?
My son, who sleeps in my bed far too much
What is your starsign?
Do you follow any personal rituals when you create? I heard that you enjoy listening to Nick Cave to feel inspired. Where do you draw inspiration?
Yeah, not always Nick but he’s been the longest. I like instrumental music. Music always helps me get started.
What is currently on your bookshelf?
I’m reading the new Patti Smith book.
Who are some of your heroes, artistic or otherwise?
I like artists who describe ideas very subtly. W.G Sebald the author, Illya Kabokov the artist, Erik Sarte the composer…
Where do you dream of travelling?
Everywhere. But I hardly get anywhere. One day…
Do you have any words to live by, mantras or personal mottos? What is next for you and your practice?
I’ve used this one before but I like the Leonard Cohen line: There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
What is beauty to you?
Beauty is anything with form that gives me pleasure to see
What’s next for you and your practice?
For my practice… a hawk and a kangaroo, and maybe an albatross… I go with the flow.
Words: Sophie Flecknoe. Images courtesy of Anna-Wili Highfield.