The work of Melbourne artist Carla Fletcher is impressively life-like. Carla studied Fine Art, but also honed her unique drawing skills by studying human anatomy and observing surgical procedures! Her arts practice is divided into two, painting and illustration, and she is known for her pencil portraits of native Australian animals.
Carla has been an Archibald Prize finalist four times. This year, her subject is iconic Australian fashion designer Linda Jackson. We recently visited the pair in Carla’s studio, as she unveiled her portrait to Linda for the first time.
There are a few things that indicate another year has come and gone. There’s the obvious celebration of new year’s eve, then there’s the hesitation surrounding tax time and the end of financial year. But for me, it’s the announcement of the Archibald Prize finalists that indicates another 365 days have passed. One of this year’s entries and finalists caught my intrigue instantly, it was the vivid portrait of iconic Australian fashion designer Linda Jackson painted by artist Carla Fletcher.
Carla Fletcher is no stranger to the Archibald Prize, in fact, this is the fourth time she has been a finalist, having painted the portraits of musicians CW Stoneking and Dan Sultan, and fashion designer Jenny Kee previously. Last year’s portrait of Jenny Kee and this year’s portrait of Linda Jackson, are what Carla refers to us her ‘Twin Soul’ series. Painted a year apart, each portrait mirrors the other in style and reflects the enduring 30 year friendship between Kee and Jackson, and each woman’s signature style.
Working from her Northcote home studio, alongside her sidekick Django the golden retriever, Carla also illustrates impressively detailed pencil portraits of Australian native animals and most recently a very special orangutang. Her ability to translate the 3D form to an almost identical life drawing is uncanny, you almost need to look twice to realise what you are looking at was drawn by hand.
Carla sells her series of Australian animals series as limited edition prints that have ended up in homes as far and wide from Abu Dhabi to New York and everywhere in-between. Her fascination with animals extends to the conservation of them too, and she is using her art to assist in this plight. Carla has recently worked to produce a limited edition print of a baby orangutang named Gypsy, where $100 from every artwork sold goes directly to the Orangutan Foundation International Australia.
Right now Carla is working on her upcoming solo show at Tinning St Gallery in November, her first solo show in three years, while embracing the local delights of her beloved Northcote.
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?
My parents are extremely supportive of my creativity and have brought me and my siblings up to follow our hearts, work hard and dream without limitations!
I have always been very sensitive, intuitive and a vivid dreamer, but I don’t think there was a clear defining moment that has led me to where I am today. The road has been a winding one, where I kept following my instincts to develop my skills, produce more work and pick myself up when I fell down… and there have been more than a few stumbles!
I studied Fine Art Drawing at RMIT in Melbourne. Before that I studied both Fashion Design and Illustration, and all of these influences are important contributors to the visual world I endeavour to create, but they were also incredibly important places for me to connect with other artists and creatives.
Although there are many great artists that inspire my work, I am greatly influenced by different forms of creative expression, from music, poetry, film, dance, fashion, textiles, architecture and design.
Perhaps it is the way my brain works, but I see colour in music, music in architecture and poetry in fashion. All these things are deeply connected, and have helped me along the way.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your subject matter?
In the past my work has explored my love of drawing and the fundamentals of portraiture, which includes studying human anatomy under teachers at University, and also by observing a top Australian Plastic Surgeon during surgical procedures.
In 2014, I produced an exhibition focusing purely on my drawing and love of native Australian animals. I released limited edition prints of a selection of these drawings, and to my amazement there have been koalas and kangaroos flying all around the world from New York to Paris to Abu Dhabi to Tokyo!
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? Do you work on multiple works at once, do you have a rigid plan while painting or a more intuitive approach? What types of materials do you use?
My creative process at the moment is a little like the life of a caterpillar. It is a transformative process that goes through a death and rebirth cycle. Initially, like the caterpillar, I consume my internal and external worlds for visual research. Taking notes, collecting screen shots, conversations, meditation, travel and life experiences, until it is time to retreat to my cocoon (the studio).
Apparently during this phase of a caterpillar’s transition into butterfly it initially turns to a jelly like substance – I think it is very similar as an artist!
There can be a lot of deconstruction before the transformation or the alchemy begins. After a lot of hard work and tapping into my intuition, it is time to re-emerge with the new body of work.
I am currently in the cocoon, working towards my first solo exhibition in three years, which will be at Tinning Street Gallery in Brunswick in November.
This new work incorporates bold colour, and the new layered mix media techniques that I have developed for my large Archibald Prize portraits of Jenny Kee (last year) and Linda Jackson.
Last week you were announced as an Archibald Prize Finalist for the third year running, this year with your portrait of legendary Australian fashion icon Linda Jackson! Can you tell us what it is about Linda that drew you to paint her, and what is has been like working with over the last few months in your portrait sessions?
This year’s portrait of Linda Jackson is the ‘twin soul’ portrait to my 2015 Archibald Prize portrait of Australian fashion designer Jenny Kee.
Together they are magic, transcendent, creative collaborators who electrified Australia with bolts of luminous colour and dreaming. From their first meeting in the early 1970s there was an instant soul connection, a connection that remains strong.
Inspired by the colour and energy of the Australian landscape, Jackson crusaded a new path for Australian fashion. She explored new approaches to textiles and incorporated never-before-seen bold Australian motifs drawn from nature, including her magical neon opal prints and Sturt’s Desert Pea flowers.
My connection with both Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson has been deeply pivotal as an artist and a human being in general! They have transformed my world.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I get out of the studio/home and take our dog Django for a walk, we then have a coffee at a local cafe, then come home and I will meditate.
After this it is studio time for the rest of the day, my studio routine changes daily, it keeps me on my toes and I love it.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Jenny Kee for her magnetic and electric use of colour, and for being a great mentor.
Linda Jackson for her nnovative exploration of textile techniques and style, and also for being a great mentor.
Jess Neaves, is a creative Yogi who inspires me constantly with her grounding integration of life and spirituality!
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Patternity for eclectic archive of patterns in design and life
But Does It Float for quotes with collections of images.
Arch Daily for inspired architecture.
This website for a great studio playlist.
The Dream Life by Alan Watts for some life perspective.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
Helping the baby orangutans in Borneo! I have just released a limited edition print of an orangutan named Gypsy, where $100 from each sale goes directly to fostering a baby orangutan in Borneo for 1 year via the amazing Orangutan Foundation International Australia. Prints are available here.
What would be your dream creative project?
To keep living the dream!
What are you looking forward to?
Building an oasis somewhere in the Victorian countryside! My husband and I constantly dream about creating an inspired space in an idyllic location, built to fit our creative needs and lifestyle.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Northcote. It’s full of all creative types and boasts a heap of great restaurants and bars.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Pan fried snapper at Supermaxi in North Fitzroy. The Pavlova is also to die for!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
At Red Door Corner Store in Northcote having a big breakfast with my husband Brett Langsford, after walking our dog, Django.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Too many to list! It is all of our hidden bars, dynamic restaurants, contemporary galleries and pop up events that gives Melbourne it’s creative heart and soul.