Interview of artist and sculptor Olive Gill-Hille with Urth magazine
Olive Gill-Hille is a multidisciplinary artist from Perth whose works exhibit a kind of duality. Sitting jointly in the two worlds of art and design, his sculptural work is both artistic and functional, appearing fresh, yet familiar. We chatted with Olive to learn more about her background, process and inspiration.
Lyrics by Ella Liascos
Photography by Olivia Senior
In a world of social media, you may feel like you’ve seen it all visually, but sometimes you come across an artist who proves otherwise. They may work with familiar materials and a familiar medium, but it feels like something renewed. The painstakingly carved wooden sculptures by Perth artist Olive Gill-Hille have that kind of effect. Use mediums you’ve seen before, but not in this way. Organic, deliberate, structural and spontaneous; his work swings gracefully between function and form, without sacrificing either. Represented by the Sally Dan-Cuthbert Gallery in Sydney and featured in several highly regarded design magazines, it’s no surprise that Olive’s wood carvings have caught the eye of the art and design world. His work demonstrates discernment beyond his years and holds universal appeal. We caught up with Olive to learn more about her origins and her practice.
Coming back to your first piece, what inspired you to start working with wood?
My first piece of functional art was called “Figure 1 and 2,” and it was these bulbous, organic, almost buttock-like stools that evoked the female form very well. They were made from a durable, lightweight and fast growing wood called paulownia which reaches its full height in 10 years. I had come from a fine arts degree where I hadn’t learned a lot of practical skills, it had been very conceptual and I desperately wanted to do things in a practical way. So I studied the associate degree in furniture design at RMIT where there was a lot of wood and metal work and it was very practical. I really fell in love with woodworking, it has wonderful transformative qualities.
"Even in the most difficult times, there have been artists and there has been art. And in some ways we appreciate these works more now, especially as a form of witnessing and observance.
Have you explored other mediums before?
When I had previously made sculptural artwork, I had a very limited skill set and was limited to working with materials I was familiar with. I had done a lot of sewing so I tried to create the kind of shapes I imagined in the fabric, which almost looked like a 'sketch' for my later practice, but wasn't true to the works I I wanted to do.
Your father was an artist, how did growing up in such a creative environment influence 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 do things every day, they didn't mind if there was a mess. I knew from an early age that I admired what my father did, I wanted to live like him. I think I probably always wanted to be an artist.
Is function a secondary or equal consideration when creating your works?
The function is secondary for me. In my practice, if the work has a surface, it is functional. Sometimes it might only allow for a lamp or something small, and other times it might be an entire dining table. But while there's a lot of design out there that really needs functionality and that's the priority, in my work I create pieces that transcend function and really occupy a space between sculpture and design. practical aspect.
What does a typical day or week look like for you at the studio?
My days and weeks change often, it really depends on the exhibitions or orders I have coming up. There are many different phases in the realization of my work. A few weeks can be spent planning, sketching and researching materials, then once I start crafting it can be collages, chainsaws and specialist bits for wood carving on die grinders. angle or maybe sanding. The sanding is probably the longest part of the process and at any given time I will have works pending of different grits of sandpaper.
Are there intentional things that you maintain in your daily life, outside of the studio, to facilitate your creativity?
Unless I have deadlines, I'm usually a slow-starter and really enjoy morning walks with my dog, or a swim at the beach and coffee with my partner. I think it gives me the stamina to work later and it allows me to enjoy my time in the studio more.
“Wood has this incredible quality of transformation. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my job is starting with a gnarled root or salvaged beam and being able to see something in it.
How would you describe the relationship between your work and your creative practice?
I don't know if all artists would say that, but for me it's easy. It's a very easy relationship and what I mean by that is that it feels natural. Obviously there are challenges, but there is never any difficulty in producing something or being creative and I think every day that I manage to get work done, I feel grateful and feel very lucky.
We have gone through a turbulent moment in history. What role do you think art can play in driving positive change?
The last few years have probably made a lot of people less creative. Right now it's easy to feel negative about the world and about working and having a purpose, but what I would say is that throughout history, even in the most difficult times , there have been artists and there has been art. And in some ways we appreciate these works more now, especially as a form of witnessing and observance. As I reflect on my practice and how I can bring about positive change, I hope that using ethically and sustainably sourced wood will encourage others to do so. I think climate change and its effects are still what troubles me the most, keeps me awake at night.
Do you have any advice for artists developing their own style?
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 that in order to create a unique style, it is very important to have time in solitude as an artist, even if that means stopping and working from home for a few days or going away when you can. .
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
As I mentioned before, wood has this amazing processing quality. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my job is to start with a gnarled root or a salvaged beam and be able to see something in it that others maybe can't and turn it into something value, something to admire or evoke feelings.
What inspires you right now? Books, music, podcasts, places?
I draw a lot of inspiration from spaces, I like to look at architecture, I read Divide blog religiously. Right now, and always, I love the work of Carlo Scarpa, Luis Kahnbig concrete things, work of a sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Although I do a lot of very organic forms, in architecture, spaces and other practices, I like rectilinear and brutal forms.
If there was one artist you would suggest we interview, who would it be?
I'm lucky to have talented friends. I would nominate either my friend Lex Williams, who I went to furniture design school with, who has a similar philosophy to sustainability and design like me. Or my dear friend Carla Milentis, who is one of the funniest people I know and does a job that's really representative of what it's like to be a woman in your twenties in Australia in this moment.
The journey of an artist is mostly unexplored. Do you have any ideas for emerging artists on maintaining a belief in their practice even when doubts or unnecessary messages from the outside world arise?
I think what's important is to never stop doing and to persevere. I really try to focus on my practice and the process and eventually other people respond to it.