As a child, Anna-Wili Highfield taught herself to draw horses on the back of racing cards, as she accompanied her dad to put on occasional bets at a TAB outlet. ‘I loved going to the races, picking from the horses in the yard. I first won on a horse called Magic Gleam. I don’t bet anymore, but I’ll always remember the soft continual monotone of the racing commentary on the radio,’ recalls the Sydney-based artist.
We spoke to Anna-Wili earlier in the week as she finalised what now seems like a very fitting commission: her largest ever horse sculpture, which will go on display at the Lexus Design Pavilion during Melbourne Cup. The work stands, or ‘gallops’, at two-and-a-half metres atop a steel frame, and incorporates ceramic, waxed plaster, rope, brass, and wood – though it’s not concealing any intruders!
It’s been a while between catch-ups, TDF first profiled Anna-Wili Highfield’s ethereal animal sculptures back in 2011. Over the years, her forms have become more geometric ‘to balance their organic qualities,’ as she describes. Her materials have expanded too – originally known for her sculptural work with paper, ceramics are a new focus. Nevertheless, her creative process has remained a constant: ‘…build it up, tear it down many times – until the core spirit of the work is revealed’.
‘I wanted to make something big and bold but still elegant and very much alive,’ tells Anna of her latest sculpture. She highlights ‘the squiggle’ of the geometric arched frame, as an extension of a more figurative mane, in keeping with her penchant for contrasting organic and architectural shapes. ‘The plaited rope around the face reminds me of Ancient Greek sculpture, but the stand is a wave of modern form,’ she elaborates.
At her studio in St Peters, Anna fired the clay elements for this horse bust before assembling them onto the frame, then adding plaster-dipped-fabric, wood and brass accents. She hopes the dynamic new work will draw racegoers in, that they will stand in its presence and feel its energy for a moment. ‘Its’ a hybrid sculpture – classical sculpture combined with modernist forms – and I hope people notice, but if they don’t then that’s ok, I think it has a balance that might make it light enough to play gently in the room.’
While she admits it was a ‘messy wrestle’ making this horse, she’s very happy with the result! ‘It’s just the evolution of something… I feel like with every piece, I’m getting closer.’
Following on from the success of her exhibition at Olsen Gruin gallery in NYC earlier this year, Anna-Wili Highfield is developing new ideas for a show in mid-2019. ‘I want to pick up from there and keep going, there’s a path there somewhere,’ she says. Follow her art here.