Interview With Freya Powell

Freya Powell is in the midst of a floral obsession and, for the last two years, has channeled that obsession into painting. Though relatively new to acrylic and canvas, Freya’s creative portfolio bridges multiple fields. Originally from Great Britain with a background in fashion and design, she now lives in Sydney, Australia, and has taken on painting as the new medium through which she explores her visual concepts.

In her current series, Freya looks to the temporal nature of flowers, noting their fluid, silken structure as having the likeness of fabric. Art’s writer Kate Bettes caught up with Freya to find out more about her floral practice.

So tell me about yourself, when did you start doing art? Was it an active decision or did you drift into it?
I've been painting for the last year or two, and before then I was doing a lot of pen and ink floral drawing. Flowers are a never ending source of inspiration; I don't think I could tire of them. They've been the basis for most art projects since I was at school. I'd been thinking about painting for a while and would always have so much admiration for artists, so it was an inevitable medium, I was just waiting for the right time. So I'd say it was a semi active decision. I do think sometimes things just happen at the right time, if I'd pushed myself to paint at an earlier stage it wouldn't have been so enjoyable an experience.

But you decided to go into textiles, not art?
My original passion was always textiles, anything to do with fabric interested me. Then I discovered surface pattern design, and that's when drawing and pattern came into play.

I studied textiles for a year then changed to a degree in Fashion Design, as I was really missing the tactile hands on aspect of working with fabric. I absolutely loved the combination of concept, design, and physically creating a garment. Working with fabrics is all about form, colour and silhouette, so for me it was an easy transition into painting.

Do you still do work with fabrics?
I still do some printed textile design, because I really enjoy the interplay between the hand drawn and digital. Seeing something you started as a drawing turned into a pattern on a product is really exciting. In the future I would like to apply painted floral elements onto textile products.

Is the appeal of doing half blown flowers aesthetic or conceptual?
It's a mix between the two.  I find the way petals drape and furl, and the change in colour and texture very aesthetically pleasing, and at the same time, it's like their last breath after they have given so much. I think anything associated with the life cycle can have a beautiful poignancy.

What is the appeal of flowers?
Flowers are largely seen as decorative objects, but they are steeped in history and meaning. They have the ability to say so much. They are appropriate for just about any punctuation of life, and are a universal symbol used to convey feeling. They offer a way to bring nature indoors, and a painted flower has the ability preserve that fleeting moment of beauty. I personally derive a lot of pleasure from flowers, and there is never ending variation in petal structure, colour, shadow, and texture.

Noticing the beauty in the detail of flowers has a very mindful effect, and I do think this in turn affects my general outlook in life.

Are there any artists/instagrams you are inspired by?
Irving Penn and Nick Knight's flower series, Joseph Stashkevetch's hauntingly beautiful black and white drawings, Bobbie Burger's expressive florals, Marta Spendowska's ethereal use of colour. I also love the illustrative work of Daryl Feril, and if I just want to look at something amazing then Iris Van Herpen doesn't fail.

Botanical artists are very inspirational to me also, not that I have a desire to emulate that level of precision, but anyone who can portray botanicals in that way is pretty special. If I look at botanical work on Instagram it definitely motivates me to create something.

You have mentioned the English countryside as an influence- how does this translate into the Australian landscape?
The English Countryside definitely made me aware of the beauty in nature from a very young age. I spent a lot of time out side and helping in the garden, and was surrounded by flowers a lot of the time. I grew up in a rural area with plenty of fields and wide open skies. I think that element resonates with me regarding the Australian landscape-that feeling of being free and afloat. Even though I live by the coast here so the landscape is so different from where I'm from in England, I'm constantly in awe of how beautiful the landscape and viewpoints are. That sense of optimism definitely influences my work.

Is there a medium you're experimenting with at the moment, or one you'd like to explore in the future?
I currently use acrylics and think I'll stick to them for the time being, but I would love to work in oils in the future. At the moment I like acrylics because I can work on one painting at a time, I think that process suits me better than having lots of half finished pieces lying around.

In terms of ephemerality as an inspiration, are you ever drawn to flowers not in full bloom?
I paint flowers that are in full bloom and those that are starting to wilt and turn. Generally I do find wilting flowers very beautiful, but I think it does depend on the type of flower. I photograph flowers in all their life stages so I can choose what stage I would like to paint. That contrast between a weighty despondency and an elegant poise of a flower dying has serious beauty. But at the same time a flower in full bloom can sometimes express everything it needs to.

In terms of inspiration, if you ever get a kind of 'artists block' do you actively do something to unblock it? Or do you just go about your daily business/loves and see what happens?
I usually find going for walks really helps to unblock my mind, the repetitive nature of it really helps my mind to wander and hopefully my thoughts tend to sort themselves out - Just doing something relaxing, I usually find that most good creative ideas come from a relaxed state of mind. If I'm stuck, say drawing, I try to just start somewhere with no expectations on myself. Pressure can be very off putting! Just putting something down on paper or canvas is a good way to start.

Do you have any new projects/exhibitions coming up?
I'm testing out a few abstract pieces and preparing a line of Giclee prints, and looking for exhibition spaces!

You can see all of Freya's works for sale here

Words by Kate Bettes