In the Studio with Billie Culy

Tell us about your current studio space. How does it affect the work you’re making?  

I am currently working in a studio space in a disused industrial building kindly made available to me by Parlour Projects. I use the whole second floor, which has incredible light that pours through the large divided light steel windows. This has been crucial to my work. It’s an aesthetically crazy space, with pink bench seats and pink counters – it’s super 80’s. You can catch glimpses of the space in some of my work. It has worked out strangely perfectly with my latest body of work, Windows. It has given the works a different feel without really realising it at the time, and it has also informed the colours I have used.

What is the first thing you do when you enter your studio for the day? Do you have a creative exercise or process that helps you begin your work?

I do a lot of preparation before I actually get to the studio, whether its foraging for flowers and objects, sourcing materials and furniture or sketching various still life scenes and ideas. When I get to the studio, I spend a lot of time building sets for each work – making curtains and tablecloths, painting walls and choosing colours and objects that work together harmoniously. When the set feels complete and I go to shoot the work, I tend to listen to a podcast or music. This ritual keeps me out of my head when I have decided on the final work. For my latest body of work where I used natural light, I had to time everything perfectly to catch the light when it streamed through at a particular time each day. 

Can you identify a pivotal place or experience that you feel has had a particular influence over the current direction of your work?

Spending time in op shops and thinking more deeply about the things I came across was a really pivotal moment for my practice. I have always been intrigued by peoples’ private lives and possessions. For me, op shops provided an insight, or a window, into their lives and the decisions they made about collecting and discarding objects. Finding these objects and putting them together into a still life context allowed me to reimagine their past and provide them with a new future. 

If you could place any piece of artwork from history within your home what would it be and where would you place it?  

Since I was little I have been captivated with Henri Rousseau’s The Dream. I would try to squeeze this above my bed. It is so magical.

When you have a day away from the studio where do you like to go?  

I think it is so important to have a day at home each week, if possible. I am lucky to have a space at home where I can continue to work and potter. I enjoy going for a big walk with my dog somewhere beautiful, such as Haumoana. Being near the sea is vital to me. 

If you could collaborate with any artist throughout history who would it be and what project would you work on together?

I would like to visit the Polynesian Islands with Paul Gauguin. I would love to do something with the native plants and fruits there as well as the traditional fabrics. The colours really speak to me. I imagine we would do something interesting with the local people – perhaps visit their homes and experiment with using painting and photography together. I have always liked the idea of blurring the lines between the two mediums.

It’s clear that your still life works exist within a constructed world of their own. What process do you find yourself going through when you begin to construct these spaces? How do you consider the archive of their existence? 

It’s an interesting process. I normally find myself connecting with a certain plant or object and want to create a little world for it to sit in – sometimes that will start with a colour in my mind. I will know straight away whether it makes me feel something. In my most recent show I wanted to bring these objects to life again – they all have a strange kind of spirit that I wanted to capture. My process is essentially very intuitive. I like to reimagine aspects of someone’s home or space, perhaps where these objects once lived.

What’s the best arts-related advice you’ve been given?

Trust and listen to yourself.

What projects are you currently working towards?

I am currently working towards an exhibition at the Hasting City Gallery, opening February 2019, and titled At The Table. I am collaborating with Henry Lyons, a qualitative researcher. We are working with five people we don’t know from around Hawke’s Bay. For each of these people we will present a recorded conversation and a work that I’ve made in their home using the mundane and/or special objects they surround themselves with. It’s an unconventional portrait, a break away from the representation that is generated in contexts such as online media.

In the Studio with Billie Culy