Olive Gill-Hille is a multidisciplinary Perth-based artist whose work exhibits a kind of duality. Co-located in the two worlds of art and design, her sculptural work is both artistic and functional, appearing fresh yet familiar. We caught up with Olive to learn more about her background, process and inspiration.
Words from Ella Liascos
Photography by Olivia Senior
In a social media world, it can feel like you’ve seen it all visually—but occasionally you’ll come across an artist who proves otherwise. You may be working with familiar materials and a familiar medium, but it feels like something new. This is the effect of the intricately carved wooden sculptures by Perth artist Olive Gill-Hille. Using media you’ve seen before but not in This Path. Organic, conscious, structural and spontaneous; Her work gracefully oscillates between function and form without sacrificing either. Represented by Sydney’s Sally Dan-Cuthbert gallery and featured in several popular design magazines, it’s not surprising that Olive’s wood sculptures have captured the attention of the art and design worlds alike. Her work demonstrates discernment beyond her age and has universal appeal. We caught up with Olive to learn more about her origins and practice.
Getting back to your first piece, what inspired you to work with wood?
My first functional piece of art was titled Figure 1 and 2, and they were these bulbous, organic, almost buttock-shaped stools that were very reminiscent of the female form. They are made from a sustainable, lightweight and fast growing wood called Paulownia that takes 10 years to reach its full height. I came from an art degree where I didn’t learn a lot of practical skills, it was very conceptual and I really wanted to do things in a practical way. So then I went to RMIT for an associate degree in furniture design, where there was a lot of woodworking and metalworking and it was very hands-on. I’ve really fallen in love with working with wood, it has some wonderful transformative properties.
“Even in the most difficult times there were artists and there was art. And in a way we value these works more now, especially as a form of witness and observation.”
Have you dealt with other media before?
When I had previously made sculptural artworks, I had very limited skills and was limited to working with materials I was familiar with. I had sewed a lot and so tried to make the kind of shapes I envisioned out of fabric, which was almost like a "sketch" for my later practice, but didn't match the work 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 make things every day, they didn't mind if there was chaos. I knew from a young 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. If the work in my practice has a surface, it is functional. Sometimes just a lamp or something small can do this, and sometimes it can be an entire dining table. But while there are many designs out there that really need functionality, and that's the priority, in my work I make pieces that go beyond function and really occupy a space between sculpture and utility.
What does a typical day or week in the studio look like for you?
My days and weeks change often, it really depends on what exhibitions or commissions I have coming up. There are many different phases in my work. A few weeks could go into planning, sketching and sourcing materials, and then when I start fabricating it could involve gluing, chainsaws and special wood carving bits on angle grinders or maybe sanding. Sanding is probably the most tedious part of the process and at any given time I will have works in line awaiting different grades of sandpaper.
Are there intentional things you do in your day-to-day life outside of the studio to fuel your creativity?
When I don't have deadlines, I'm generally a slow starter and really enjoy walking my dog in the mornings or swimming at the beach and having coffee with my partner. I think it gives me the stamina to work later and allows me to enjoy my time in the studio more.
“Wood has this amazing transformative quality. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my job is starting with a gnarled root or a salvaged log 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 every artist would say that, but for me it's simple. It's a very simple relationship and what I mean by that is that it feels natural. Of course there are challenges but there is never a struggle to produce anything or to be creative and I think every day that I can put in work I am grateful and feel very lucky.
We are at a turbulent moment in history. What role do you think art can play in driving positive change?
The last few years have probably made many people feel less creative. Right now it's easy to be negative about the world, to do work and have a purpose, but what I would say is that throughout history, even in the most difficult times, there have been artists and art. And in a way we value these works more now, especially as a form of witness and observation. As I reflect on my practice and how I can drive positive change, I hope that using woods that are ethically sourced and sustainable will encourage other people to do the same. I think climate change and its effects are still my biggest concern, keeping me up at night.
Do you have any tips for artists developing a unique style of their own?
Working in shared spaces is incredibly stimulating and the energy of other people in the area can be an enrichment, but at times a distraction. I would say to create a unique style it is very important to have solitude time as an artist even if it means stopping for a few days and working from home or getting away if possible.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
As I mentioned before, wood has this amazing transformative quality. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my job is starting with a gnarled root or salvaged log and seeing something in it that others might not be able to see and turning it into something valuable, something to be admired or can evoke feelings.
What inspires you at the moment? Books, music, podcasts, places?
I get a lot of inspiration from spaces, I like looking at architecture, I read it Split religious blogging. At the moment and always I love the work of Carlo Scarpa, Louis Kahngreat concrete things, the work of the sculptor Edward Chillida. Although I make a lot of very organic forms, I love straight, brutalist forms in architecture, spaces and other practices.
If you were to nominate an artist for an interview, who would it be?
I'm lucky to have talented friends. I would either nominate my friend Lex Williams, who I went to furniture design school with and 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 the work truly representative of what it means to be a woman in her 20s in Australia at this time.
The path of an artist is mostly unknown. Do you have any insights for aspiring artists on how to keep believing in their practice even when doubts or unhelpful outside messages come up?
I think what's important is to never stop doing and persevere. I really try to focus on my practice and the process, and eventually other people respond to that.