Olive Gill-Hille’s Wooden Sculptures Oscillate Gracefully Between Function and Form

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Olive Gill-Hille is a multi-disciplinary artist from Perth whose works hold a kind of duality. Sitting jointly in the two worlds of art and design, her sculptural work is both artistic and functional, appearing fresh, yet familiar. We chatted to Olive to learn about her background, process and inspiration.

Words by Ella Liascos

Photography by Olivia Senior

In a social media world it can feel like you’ve visually seen it all — but occasionally, you come across an artist who proves otherwise. They might work with familiar materials and a familiar medium, but it feels like something renewed. The laboriously carved wooden sculptures by Perth artist, Olive Gill-Hille have this sort of effect. Using mediums you’ve seen before, but not in this way. Organic, deliberate, structural and spontaneous; her work oscillates gracefully between function and form, without sacrificing either. Represented by Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert in Sydney and featured in several well-loved design magazines, it’s unsurprising that Olive’s wooden sculptures have garnered attention from the art and design world alike. Her work demonstrates discernment beyond her years and holds a universal appeal. We caught up with Olive to learn more about her origins and practice.

Olivia Senior

Take us back to your first piece, what inspired you to begin working with wood?

My first piece of functional art was titled ‘Figure 1 and 2’, and they were these bulbous, organic, almost bum shaped stools that were very evocative of the female form. They were made from a sustainable, lightweight and fast-growing timber called paulownia which reaches full height in 10 years. I had come from a fine art degree where I hadn’t learnt many practical skills, it had been very conceptual and I desperately wanted to make things in a hands-on way. So I then studied the Associate Degree in Furniture Design at RMIT where there was lots of woodworking and metalworking and it was very practical. I really fell in love with working with timber, it’s got some wonderful transformative qualities.

Olivia Senior

“Even in the most challenging times there have been artists and there has been art. And in some ways, we value those works more now, especially as a form of witness and observance.”

Did you explore other mediums prior?

When I had previously made sculptural artworks, I had a very limited skill set and was restricted to working with materials I knew. I had done a lot of sewing and so had tried to make the sort of shapes I envisioned in fabric, which was almost like a ‘sketch’ for my later practice but wasn’t true to the works I wanted to make.

Lajos Varga

Your Dad was an artist, how has growing up in such a creative environment influenced your process? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

I had a lot of freedom, both my parents were very open-minded. They encouraged me to make things every day, they didn’t mind if there was mess. I knew from an early age that I admired what my Dad did, I wanted to live like he did. I think I’ve probably always wanted to be an artist. 

Is function a secondary, or equal consideration when creating your works?

Function is secondary for me. In my practice, if the work has a surface, it’s functional. Sometimes this might only allow for a lamp or something small, and other times, it might be a whole dining table. But whilst there is lots of design out there that really needs functionality and that is the priority, within my work I am making pieces that transcend function and really occupy a space between sculpture and practicality.

Olivia SeniorOlivia Senior

What does a typical day or week look like for you at the studio?

My days and weeks change often, it really depends on what exhibitions or commissions I have coming up. There are lots of different phases in making my work. Some weeks might be taken up with planning, sketches and sourcing materials, and then once I start making, it might be glue ups, wrangling chainsaws and specialist wood carving bits on angle grinders or maybe sanding. Sanding is probably the lengthiest part of the process and at any given time I will have works in the line up waiting for different grits of sandpaper.

Are there intentional things you maintain in your day-to-day, outside of the studio to facilitate your creativity?

Unless I have deadlines, I am generally a slow start sort of person and really value walks with my dog in the morning, or a swim at the beach and getting a coffee with my partner. I think it gives me the stamina to work later and it allows me to enjoy my time at the studio more.

“Timber has this amazing transformative quality. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my work is starting with a gnarled root or salvaged beam and being able to see something in it.”

Olivia Senior

How would you describe the relationship between your work and your creative practice?

I don’t know that every artist would say this, but for me it’s easy. It’s a very easy relationship and what I mean by that is it feels natural. Obviously, there are challenges, but there’s never a struggle to produce something or be creative and I think every day I get to make work I’m grateful and feel very fortunate. 

We’ve been in a turbulent moment in history. What role do you feel art can play in driving positive change?

The last few years have probably made a lot of people feel less creative. At the moment, it’s easy to feel negative about the world and making work and having purpose, but what I would say is that throughout all of history, even in the most challenging times, there have been artists and there has been art. And in some ways, we value those works more now, especially as a form of witness and observance. When I reflect on my practice and how I can drive positive change, I hope that utilising timbers that are ethically sourced and sustainable will encourage other people to do so. I think climate change and its effects are still what troubles me most, keeps me up at night. 

Olivia Senior
Olivia Senior

Do you have tips for artists developing a unique style of their own?

Working in shared spaces is incredibly stimulating and the energy of other people around can be an asset but sometimes also a distraction. I would say in order to create a unique style, it’s very important to have time in solitude as an artist, even if it means stopping and working from home for a few days or getting away when you can. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

As I mentioned before, timber has this amazing transformative quality. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my work is starting with a gnarled root or salvaged beam and being able to see something in it that maybe others can’t and transforming it into something of value, something to be admired or evoke feeling. 

Lajos Varga

What is inspiring you at the moment? Books, music, podcasts, places?

I get inspired a lot by spaces, I love looking at architecture, I read the Divisare blog religiously. At the moment, and always, I love the work of Carlo Scarpa, Luis Kahn, big concrete things, the work of sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Although I make lots of very organic shapes, in architecture, spaces and other practices I love rectilinear, brutalist shapes. 

An artist’s path is mostly uncharted. Do you have any insights for emerging artists on maintaining a belief in their practice even as doubts or unhelpful messaging from the outside world arise?

I think what’s important is to never stop making and to persevere. I really try to focus on my practice and the process and eventually other people respond to it.

If there was an artist you’d nominate for us to interview, who would it be?

I’m lucky in that I have talented friends. I would either nominate my friend Lex Williams, who I went to Furniture Design school with who has a similar ethos to sustainability and design as I do. Or my dear friend Carla Milentis, who is one of the funniest people I know and makes work really representative of what it is to be a 20-something woman in Australia at this time. 

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Ella Liascos

Ella Liascos is an Australian writer based in Byron Bay, exploring how we can regenerate our relationship to ourselves and the planet.

2022-09-19T05:07:02+00:00Categories: Art|Tags: , , |