Interview With Isabel R.

Sydney artist Isabel R masterfully layers everyday objects, historical allusions and diverse cultural experiences in a single visual plane. Her artwork continues to evolve as she experiments with a mix of materials and mediums, and has been greatly influenced by her experiences travelling and living in Mexico. Isabel recently took the time to chat with Art Pharmacy about her practice.

Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the work you create?
My work has changed quite drastically over the last five or so years. Growing out of my comfort sphere was crucial to my development and really started during my time living in Mexico.

I used to paint faithfully, mostly with a palette knife in a rather systematic way and I enjoyed seeing the painting come to fruition. But at some point it began to feel repetitive and I wanted to experiment with other ways of artistic expression. I began to dabble with different styles, materials, and techniques. All the while I took photos, and continued to collect “useless” things, old bus tickets, cigarette packets, etcetera, something I have done since I was very young. I find the reflection of this “rubbish”, while trivial to most, very interesting. They hold a lot in themselves. As individual objects they speak of a time and place, of past use, of their journey as an object collecting dirt and dust… and all together they are like puzzle pieces of quotidian life.

I have begun to use more and more of this in my work, including photography. I am interested in the minutiae of everyday life, the collection and repositioning of objects or settings, and the personal elements that can be transmitted to the viewer. Because of this most of my work is multidimensional, literally using mixed media, and conceptually.

Mesoamerican iconography and history, particularly anchored around Spanish colonisation, has a strong thematic presence in your work. What attracts you to these cultures? Do you share a personal or familial connection to the region?
A multidisciplinary university course (combining Fine Art with Hispanic studies) led me to Mexico… Breton stated it perfectly, "I don't know why I came here. Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world".

After living there and making my own ties to the people and place, I was even more interested in their fascinating and brutal history and how it made me reflect my own.

Your works often position personal photographs and everyday items against anthropologic illustrations, condensing layered historical and cultural references. How do you select and subsequently combine these diverse images?
As I mentioned, the collecting and condensing happens often on a random, subconscious plane, which is very personal.

When I have an idea I allow myself to calibrate the work, taking into consideration what my initial emotional reaction is to the different elements and then trying to imagine how it would be to someone who had no personal attachment to the objects, people, or place. Some of my works like Kukulkan  for example, have a very clear and thought out symbolism that all ties together.

Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Film. I’ve done the filming part, but I’m still working on the editing.

Can you tell us a little about your studio environment?
My studio is both a harbor, and a place where I am forced to culminate.

Tell us a bit about the process of creating your works. Are your compositions pre-meditated, or do they emerge organically on the page?
Both, depending on the work; usually my premeditated ideas bend a fair bit, whereas I have been quite specific in the executing of my premeditated visual compositions. It depends on the nature of the work, whether I am focused on the conceptual elements or as it seems to be more often enough, completely focused on the visual elements, working out why I want to feed them together. What I think is a rooted concept can often grow in a different direction and likewise one that begins quite confused can become very clear.

Do you have any creative rituals?
My art making is my ritual.

What, if any, are the challenges you encounter in your practice?
It is always subjective.

Are there any recent, current or future projects you are involved in that you would like to share with us?
I am currently focused on a photography series that draws from my time between Mexico and Australia. I hope to exhibit them solo in the not too distant future.

See more of Isabel's artworks here and buy them too!

Words: Lauren Castino