Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Oscar & Matilda Feature

I have always been intrigued about the artists and designers I meet at The Olive Tree Market. About their creative processes, their work spaces and where they gain inspiration. I felt a little nervous about asking for access into this realm of their lives, as I know that this is somewhat of a scared space, and full of the creative alchemy that each artist holds close to their heart and which makes their work unique.

The first in this series of interviews is with the lovely Zoe Tjanavaras Owner & Creator of Jewelry & Accessory label Oscar & Matilda. Zoe opened her home and studio to me some weeks ago and the following interview and images are from that day.

Entering Zoe’s terrace in Cooks Hill felt like entering a salon full of Parisian and oriental otherworldly charm. Her sitting room is full of antique furniture, Zoë’s paintings and small treasures she has collected on her travels. The silks and colours of greens and gold’s also left me feeling I was in a very private almost underwater space. 

It’s not hard to see how prolific Zoe is when entering her house. There is evidence of her creativity everywhere. Including several large abstract paintings with organic shapes. Zoe shares an ever changing and ever expanding world with her partner Rowan and as Zoe joked by working at home her art is slowly taking over the house!

Zoe works from the front room of her terrace in a space full of light and intrigue. There is so much to look at and there is a romantic and ethereal quality to the room. There is a strong sense of femininity and the baroque in Zoe's work and the colours of this time show in her space and work.

As far back as Zoe can remember she had a pencil in her hand.

At an early age Zoe showed a passionate interest in anything that could be handmade and from her early childhood she drew continuously. When Zoe turned 21 her Auntie gave her a book of drawings that had been keep since Zoe began drawing at aged 2. Zoe opened some of her workbooks for me to look at as we talked. The books were brimming with ideas for future projects and each page was really a small artwork within itself. There were also visual diaries from her when Zoe was a student at University of Queensland, The University of Newcastle and Newcastle Tafe. During this time she studied film, photography, sculpture and graphic design.

As well as painting and drawing Zoe was fascinated in sculptural processes from a young age. This was very much inspired by spending time with her father in his shed, which was full of every sort of tool imaginable. Zoë’s dad is a civil engineer but and was always building & conjuring creations. He often tinkered on a 1924 Dodge & other cars & machined formed his own panels, handmade furniture and made things for Zoe like an inside train track & motorbikes. Zoe said "He really was that weird 'mad creator' dad that was always making stuff & having access to his tools and space & creativity encouraged me to experiment & influenced the direction of my art practice."

Zoe loves machinery and learning to do things herself. ‘Its empowering to use a power tool, to solder & stuff like that and to really knowing what your doing!! I particularly like big things!

Zoë’s mum also created but in a quieter way. She made silver jewelry, lead lighting, sewing and took craft classes in the 80’s. These skills also fascinated Zoe. Her love of textiles started here which she uses in all her resin jewelry.

Zoe says that her parents are both creators but much more than that…

Cooks Hill, Shops, Galleries, Eckersley’s and Starting out.

After studying Zoe lived with Michelle Ramsey who opened the Darby St business Ramjet. During this time she started making beaded jewelry and leather handbags which she sold at Ramjet. The one below is the first clutch Zoe made.

Zoe was also continually exhibiting her paintings in group shows at local galleries like Rocket Art, Field Gallery, Back to Back, NAS Art Space and the Forsyth Gallery.

Around this time Zoe also began working at the old Eckersley’s art supply store in Parry St Cooks Hill- remember that glorious old barn where you could wander for ages!!

Having access to the products and tools at Eckersley’s and seeing what customers were using got Zoe to thinking about working with new mediums. At the time Zoe worked with the artist & sculptor Lawella Lewis, whose sculptures often included resin, and inspired Zoe to consider using this element in her art practice.

Zoe started experimenting with resin and began making bangles, earrings and brooches that she sold at Darby St institutions Ramjet. She was amazed when this new work flew out the door to the extent that she couldn’t keep up with the demand. Around this time she also started as a stallholder at The Olive Tree Market.

Experimenting with forms and techniques

Having watched Zoe working with resin its obvious that expert hands are at work!! This is not a simple process! It’s clear that Zoe has strong technical skills which have taken her 7 years of trial and error to master. Luckily she is good at problem solving and persisting with difficult technical problems.

Zoe needs to create a dedicated space when she is planning to work with resin
and it really is a production line process that is impressive to watch. It’s a
difficulty and messy process- think toffee making and you somewhat get the concept!  The alchemical processes of heating, cooling and drying the resin are crucial to the finished product. Luckily Zoe is a lady who likes a challenge.

Zoe says it has also been an expensive process of experimentation and how to use the resin to the best effect. She has spent lots of money buying moulds and other technical equipment, which she often has to import from America, as the equipment is frequently unavailable in Australia.

There is a wooden base to all of Zoe’s jewelry, bird mobiles and art works. Initially she did this work herself but now has this time consuming component carefully laser cut by two skilled makers who Zoe has worked with for some time. She dreams of buying her own laser cutter, which would open up whole other areas of possibility in her art practice…

Then there is the fabric that you see in all of Zoë’s work! I’ve been on one small shopping trip for fabric with Zoe and Di Jones from Sketch & Jones and lets just say I was impressed! Zoe has a great eye for textiles which she uses in all of her jewelry. When she can she likes to be use fabric from ethically created Australian textile designers & makers. In particular she loves the fabrics created by Melbourne Boutique Textile Studio Ink & Spindle who make beautiful hand printed textiles in organic cotton and hemp and provide a sustainable alternative to mass-produced imported textiles. The amount of skill that goes into Zoe using fabric in Oscar & Matilda's range is really impressive and takes a form of meditation to focus on such detailed work.

Family, memory and travel feature strongly in Zoë’s work

Living at a distance from her family has and continues to be a big influence on Zoë’s work. Her jewelry often features stories and symbols that are up to the wearer to interpret but that have meaning to Zoe.

Each piece includes scaled down replica charms of tiny people, aeroplanes, sewing machines, Eiffel Towers, birds, feathers, birdcages, owls, butterflies and horses. Zoe says that each of these tiny charms reference Zoë’s family, her past experiences, travel and memory. Zoe buys the small components of people & charms but often repaints the tiny people and then begins the gluing, resin and creative assembling...Its a little like looking at the actors from the TV series Mad Men!

There is more that a hint of melancholy in Zoe's work… I find beautiful images of her parents within her workspace and they obviously play a big part in her imagination.

Does Zoe have a daily routine and creative process?

Zoe likes to go for a walk first off to blow off the cobwebs. Sometimes she will see a sign, which will set the mood for the day. She then likes to clean her studio & establish order so that she can start afresh, concentrate, create and of course then make a mess again!

Zoe usually works in resin or a few hours and needs a dedicated space for this process. It is also requires strong adherence to safety because of the toxic nature of resin.

Like all artists who are also running a business the organization side of her routine can sometimes be daunting and eat into time she would rather be creating. Its particularly difficult keeping up with her online shop, Etsy, accounts, posting works, marketing, grants, emailing.

A dream would be getting an assistant/makers to work for her from Zoë’s prototypes so that she has the space to think of new ideas and art works and commit more time to her practice.

A favourite time of the day for Zoe is her visual research!

Zoe admits to have a thing for raid and rummage through magazines to see what is out there. She also Loves Google! Every night she researches what other artists, designers and creators are doing, what process they use and where and how their work is sold and exhibited. Zoe also likes to gather objects and images that help her visualize what art she may create.

Local people and businesses she is currently inspired by are the Australian figurative painter Del Kathryn Barton, the eclectic and colorful works of local painter Bridie Watt Bridie Watt who has an exhibition at the end of August at Nanshe Gallery in Newcastle, the artists Adam Cullen who recently passed away & long term favourite Andy Warhol.

Zoe also loves the beautiful shop Blackbird Corner on Darby Street which is full of beautiful handmade goods, and websites & blogs like Big Cartel, made it, et la mer , Meet Me At MikesPotty Mouth Mama & in general textile art, mixed media work, illustration & painting... 

Zoe always comes back to painting. 

Although she sometimes finds it harder than the other mediums she works in, where she knows if she follows the techniques she has mastered how a work will turn out, she loves the 'unknown' of painting where anything could happen!

Lately Zoe has started painting again and has been really excited with what has been unfolding… She has also been using resin to beautiful effect in her recent paintings.

And next comes ????

Zoe feels she is on the precipice of the next big period of her life. Oscar & Matilda started small and has grown considerably since its inception.

So it’s a time of crossroads & transitions… Zoe would like to commit to her practice 100% and take on her business and art full time. She has streamlined her practice & materials, is living simply and says that all she really wants is to live the ‘good life’ of making art rather than working for the dollar being the critical equation.

Zoe would also like to create a series of small classes to pass on some of the techniques and knowledge she now has to other creative people.

And perhaps a studio in a in a warehouse where she could create with some space!

Where to find Oscar & Matilda

Oscar & Matilda is sold at The Olive Tree Market on the first Saturday of the month, Ramjet on Darby Street, Lake Macquarie Gallery, Webb's GalleryLocal ShopThe Maitland Regional Art Gallery & The Sydney Observatory Gallery.