Fiona Williams

visual artist / Melbourne (Australia)

 
 

 
 
Untitled (where the cat lay II) , 2018, oil on aluminium 40 x 60 cm. Photo by C. Capurro

Untitled (where the cat lay II), 2018, oil on aluminium 40 x 60 cm. Photo by C. Capurro

 
 

1. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?

When talking about what I do, I say that I work with painting and moving images because that provides some constraints for people to understand the way I think about my practice. However, my practice is not limited to those media. At the moment I'm mostly painting with oil on aluminium. The resulting image functions in a way not too dissimilar to a moving image. I wrote my MFA exegesis on painting and the moving-image, focusing on specific material traces and how their operations relate to conceptual thinking around time and vitality.

I completed this research at the end of 2017, and it felt good to finally have figured out that what I was doing in a way that I was comfortable defining. Writing my exegesis simplified my work helping me to articulate my interests and understand that what motivates me is the curiosity to pursue these ideas.

2. Why do you make art? What are your main sources of motivation?

This kind of question comes up very often whenever you are asked to write about your work — when applying for shows for example. What, how, why?

I found it a difficult one to answer at the beginning of my career, but as my practice developed I started to realise I make art because of the way I think. There are things that I am interested in, like time, place and materiality and the connection between these things, which I can understand better through the process of making work — this is why I keep doing it.

Other sources of motivation are me liking art, being surrounded by other artists, and thinking I want to be there too.

3.What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your early days as an artist?

I think of art school and having fun, hanging out, making work and connecting to people through that work. Having shows together was also a big part of this. That's a very precious time, and this is why I think art school is a good thing to do. Art school taught me how people are integral to art.

After finishing art school, when asked what I was doing next I remember saying that it was going to be the same except my friends and I wouldn’t be at Uni, but in a studio somewhere.

In reality, finding a studio space together is tricky while everyone's going in different directions — things are going to change and that’s okay. I think that shared studios are a very good thing. You do not necessarily have to have one, but if you do, it helps you create a mental space to work and settle in your practice every day. I haven’t always had a studio though, like when I was doing residencies overseas. But prior to then (my first studio) I was lucky enough to be in an artist run space with some of my peers and other great new people that I met there. I also ended up working for that ARI.

4. What was the first opportunity you were offered in the arts? Would you have liked to have had different ones? As time went by, how did opportunities influence your practice?

The first opportunity was probably taking part in shows organised by my peers while at art school. We started doing that while I was studying and then it continued for a little while after.

But then my first real opportunity was when, after many rejections, I got offered my own show. They asked for just the video work, which was different to what I was proposing. I thought this was a good thing that they knew what they wanted. I didn't know anyone that worked at that gallery, so it was really encouraging to have a work backed by completely new people.

Applying for shows and getting rejections has taught me to understand how things work, to be patient, and to just keep working. I remember feeling quite frustrated at times. I was very shy about my work and I didn't talk about it very often. I had a lot of work to show but lacked the skills necessary to get it out in the world. Eventually I figured out that I needed to just keep making work and things would come about. Working in an ARI definitely helped a lot too, in regards to understanding better how things worked on the art institution side of things.

Everyone wants to be offered a show when they finish art school, but observing how this can affect people, I don't think it's such a bad thing not to have such opportunities immediately. Sometimes it can get a bit depressing for people when things quiet down afterwards. I like taking my time when I do things, and this has left me happy with my path so far. Rather than doing everything at once, I prefer to have a few things up my sleeve to work towards.

Untitled (video still) , 2017, oil on aluminium, 19.9 x 60 cm.  Untitled (cat) , 2017, oil on aluminium, 40 x 60cm. Photo by C. Capurro

Untitled (video still), 2017, oil on aluminium, 19.9 x 60 cm. Untitled (cat), 2017, oil on aluminium, 40 x 60cm. Photo by C. Capurro

5. What were the first risks you had to take? Do you think the challenges you had to face gradually evolved with your practice?

I think the first risks were exhibiting for the first few times when we had group shows and the graduating show at art school. I remember how terrifying it was to expose myself. By the time I had my first solo show, I was very confident with what I was exhibiting, because the work had been made almost a year before (and I had laboured over it for so long). After that, there were shows where I was presenting very new work and that again felt like a risk. I think it's important to just put things out there and not worry too much, even when it is easy to think that you are not ready yet. It’s a good thing to allow your work to be seen by people other than yourself.

I find comfort in thinking about the work of artists I like and that I might not like everything that they do, but I can still understand what they're doing and that is interesting.

I'm fairly comfortable with exhibiting now. The risks now are more like financial risks – and making a lot of compromises, like living in a cheaper apartment, to be able to afford a studio.

 
 
Untitled (Pines) , 2017, oil on aluminium, 40 x 60cm. Photo by C. Capurro

Untitled (Pines), 2017, oil on aluminium, 40 x 60cm. Photo by C. Capurro

 
 

6. How do the risks you take influence your work today?

Risks that come with experimentation are integral to art practice and I enjoy that. It's a curious time to ask because I've just had a show open and I'm feeling optimistic. There are definitely, I guess, what I’d call intellectual risks, but that is the process you just have to work through – it can be hard though.

7. What puts you at ease when experimenting with something unfamiliar or trying out a new approach?

When I have visitors to the studio I like to see what they respond to — this is always something that sets me at ease. I think it is the best thing because that is how you detach yourself from your work. People are generally nice even when they dislike something. Sometimes when people say they are unsure about something, I feel like that means there is something there that is interesting.

 
 
Untitled , 2018, oil on aluminium, 13.5 x 19.2 cm. Photo by C. Capurro

Untitled, 2018, oil on aluminium, 13.5 x 19.2 cm. Photo by C. Capurro

 
 

8. When overcoming challenges, what is the role of your community of peers and mentors?

Having that constant dialogue with other artists (and friends and mentors) to keep myself and my work in check is very important. Making art can be a very confusing process and so peers are essential. On an emotional level, having people that have the same strange life of juggling things is incredibly important because otherwise, especially as I get older, things can be disheartening. It’s good to have that solidarity.

Another good thing is to make work together, or alongside each other. I was very excited to exhibit with my friend Ruth Höflich in our recent show at DAVID, in Melbourne. I didn’t see her work until just before the opening, we had conversations (most actually before we decided to do the show) and an intuitive understanding, so this was exciting — I knew her work was going to be good. I trust Ruth entirely. And I knew through this process we would push ourselves to make stronger decisions.

9. Are you easily able to consider your work outside of the labels of ‘failure’ or ‘success’? If so, are there tools and techniques you use in thinking beyond these labels?

I never think in terms of failure and success and maybe that's because I was brought up in an environment where these were not a thing, and no one spoke in these terms. I'm not used to people talking in that way, and tend to dismiss it when people do. When I'm painting, especially when a painting's not working and the process is fraught, timing can help. If I put the work away and come back to it, sometimes years later, I can often see the work differently and appreciate its value. Failure has a lot to do with working under external pressures and feeling like you haven’t done what you were expected to do. It depends whether this matters or not. When studying this can be hard.

Today I am optimistic and feelings of failure do not last for long. I think it's okay to be stopped in your tracks and to reconsider what you are doing.

10. If you could go back in time and give yourself a good piece of advice what would it be, and is that the same advice you give yourself today?

To trust myself. But that's something you have to learn over time. When I was younger, after finishing art school, I just wanted to set up my own practice in Melbourne. To have a studio, make some work, and have my own show. I did this for a while, I had a few shows, but then I decided it was time travel and to do some residencies. It was so refreshing to be exposed to so many different voices and to see how other people work. We internalise so many critical voices, especially during undergrad. It was good to realise that, yes, you can do anything, and that there are many ways to make work.

11. What are you working on at the moment, and is there anything particular that excites you?

I'm excited about the show that has just gone up — which is allowing me to suddenly see these paintings as works. A couple of them will go to Wellington with me for a show that's happening there at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space early next year. I'm excited that this will involve working with curator Victoria Wynne-Jones who I have gotten to know quite well over the past few years on my visits to Auckland. This will be a group show that will involve a different performance each day — while my paintings endure in the space. I am very excited to show my work in such an interesting context.

Still from The River, My Camera, and Me,  2015, water, colour, paper, air, A5

Still from The River, My Camera, and Me, 2015, water, colour, paper, air, A5

 
 

More of Fiona’s work here.