Wonder, experimentation and curiosity are all aspects that feature heavily in the creative process of Stevie Fieldsend. The Sydney based creative, and mother of two, is primarily a glass blower who has seen her artistic direction morph over the span of 27 years.
For Stevie, creativity and a life in the arts was not a choice. It is something that runs in her family. Her mother was an artist and as a young girl, she found herself wheeled from one exhibition to another, always being surrounded by a plethora of creative people.
‘As an 18-year-old, it gave me such a sense of satisfaction to envisage something, to day dream and then make it tangible. There was this warm glow and no one could take it away from me,’ Stevie said.
‘Even if they copied my idea, they couldn’t copy my next idea. It was a precious world of creative resource within me, that really felt like mine and really gave me a sense of personal satisfaction.’
Stevie first started working with hot glass during her undergraduate degree and she found herself utterly seduced. Like every material that she has worked with since, glass gave her a sense of wonder that really inspired her creativity.
After having two children, she took a break from the art world to really soak up motherhood. After about ten years, she decided she wanted to kick start her career. She enrolled in a Masters of Studio Art and got her head around working with glass and working outside of the restrictions of design.
Stevie never imagined by the end of those two years that she would be making wooden glass sculpture installations that weigh almost 700kgs. She never thought she’d be using a chainsaw to carve off the tops of tree trunks and dumping 20kgs of solid glass onto it. She was being pushed out of her comfort zone by mentors and she began to push hot glass to its limits.
‘In my first year, I was only working with glass. In my second year, I thought what would happen if I dumped glass onto wood, cotton reels, pumpkins, metal and chicken wire. I had all of these different things lined up and some of it was a dismal failure, but that was okay,’ Stevie said.
‘Then I dumped some glass onto sleeper wood and it was love at first sight. The hot glass burnt into the wood, the wood grain left an imprint in the glass. I dumped glass onto every bit of wood you can imagine.’
Stevie’s work is based on curiosity and experimentation, pushing the material to its limit and seeing what will happen and working back from there. Because she is not going by a formula taught at school, she is not limited to one way of working. She is free to discover.
That sense of wonder is really important to her. She has to be drawn to a material in order to work with it. Materials that change from one thing to another. This idea of things not having a fixed state of being, that they can in fact change under the right conditions, an alchemy or psychotherapy, in modern days.
‘I really need a sense of movement in any material that I use. Glass, metal, wood and now pleated material, anything that’s transmutable, that can change and change back again, inspires me,’
Her major inspiration comes from nature and that is something that she has always been drawn to. The beauty of nature, whether it is fungus, seaweed, mushroom, wood or seed pods, nothing compares to the allure of nature that many artists garner their inspiration from.
‘My kids also inspire me, their sense of wonder. They have re-taught me all of that. The best thing about being a mother, I get to revisit all of these childhood things and watch them experience it for the first time,’ Stevie said.
Stevie creates because it makes her feel better. She goes into this day dreaming state of mind, where the creative process really grounds her. It brings her joy and is great for her mental health despite causing her pain with the weight of her installations.
Stevie doesn’t start her work with an intellectual premise, it is purely process driven, with a lot of different things coming into play. Upon returning to a particular material, it starts off with ideas around fantasy which she then pushes the material in every direction that she finds possible.
‘I have these two different elements and its sort of like this embryonic concept through the process of curiosity and working with the material, and having this internal dialogue with the material. Where it will provide me with all of its possibilities and I will respond to it,’
For Stevie, ‘It is the process of the material informing me and me informing the material, and working around how the material reacts and its possibilities. My work is intensely personal. I work from these physiological sensations that I have, disassociation is something that I have experienced, it’s almost pre-verbal,’ Stevie said.
‘I work with feelings and sensations and through making, the journey, and the research, I get a deeper understanding of the material but also of myself. It reveals me to me.’
Stevie believes her work is an epic search for meaning. Further to this, she believes that the material does really reflect her emotional state and is the perfect representation of what is inside of her.
Central to her work is the idea of movement. Her work has a sense of fluidity to it that takes many manifestations when viewed from different angles while also taking your breath away. Movement has always fascinated her from the very beginning. From her work with glass and wood to her current work with pleated material.
‘I like the possibility of suggesting the idea of falling, of leaving, of just arriving, that seeming fixed state of being can in fact change, that things are in a state of flux. They’re not stuck,’ Stevie said.
What is also clear in Stevie’s work is her exploration of the body, in particular her form, the female form. Her work is all based around her body. The different bodily sensations and how she inhabits her body.
‘The feminine body is important to me. I talk a lot about what happened to my body through my work. I came to the realisation that the body is telling me things all of the time. This is my way of listening to my body’s realities, what’s going on with it,’ Stevie said.
‘Glass is this fluid material that is alive, hot and bubbling and then it has been frozen in time, stuck, capturing this one moment and becomes crystallised. Working with this material really explains my emotional state,’
From cutting the tree trunk, blackening the tree and taking the tree out of the tree through the charring process has become another fascination to her.
‘Wood is transmutable. You can char it but it still has a red core. The way it reacts to the glass, they have this beautiful alchemy with each other. It’s nice working with a material free of limitations, where I can touch it and carve into it,’ Stevie said.
In currently working with pleated material, she is taking a departure from her usual style of installations. Over the last six years all of her installations have weighed upwards of up to half a tonne. She felt weighed down, like she was punishing her body.
‘I thought, what could I do that looks after myself on a really holistic level that I enjoy doing, that is of commercial value but not dictated by it, something that I’m completely fascinated and drawn to and want to work with for a long time,’ Stevie said.
She is enjoying the lightness and the softness of the new material it and how it relates to the flesh, the body and skin. But also, how it relates to covering and protection. The two-way shimmering coloration that pulses in the light, has captured her imagination.
For her current work, Mira Mira, she explored the beyond-body consciousness, the allure and the catharsis of the in-and-out of body experience. While also looking at the feeling of exceeding boundaries, the external and the internal, the sensation of being pulled out of her skin, maturation process and flux.
‘A driving inspiration for this show was fantasy movies like Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the books that took you on an adventure. The colours and the abundance of patterns, designs and clothes that draws you in,’ Stevie said.
‘As I dissolved into my work, I became the textural gold surface, the internal black, blue and brown, the pulling out sag, the scorched boundary, the odd and beautiful, the pleated in and out, the weight, the gravity, the light, the joy, the pain, the tender, the sensual feminine, the ability to change, the impossible possible,’
Stevie has been involved in two past solo exhibitions, Yolo and Umbra. She has also been involved in numerous group exhibitions. All of her work is steeped in the life force, her sense of self and the psyche. All the way staying true to herself.
‘Yolo was about what happens to the mind when you’re trapped in a position that you need to escape. Disassociation comes from a dark place but it’s also an incredible magical resource,’ Stevie said.
Umbra was the culmination of her fine arts degree based on her exploration of her Samoan heritage. Having largely been disconnected with that side of her family. Through her art she understood herself as a woman within the Samoan culture.
‘I wanted to explore my Samoan heritage though my work and I did that by looking at the full customary woman’s tattoo called the Malu,’ Stevie said.
‘It was this incredible journey that took me back to Samoa. I got to hang out with my cousins, went through rituals with them and in the end I ended up getting the Malu.’
Her next solo show will be at ARIs, an artist run initiative. She will create work that is a lot more raw, immediate, using a lot more glass and metal.
‘I’m going to start balancing my art work by doing some design work. I need to start making some consistent money and to continue being a devoted mother and I think I might write a book,’ Stevie said.
If you want to find out more about Stevie and her work, you can visit the Artereal Gallery Website www.artereal.com.au or alternatively you can contact them for more details.
‘My goal is to remain curious and experimental and searching for these wonderment materials. To remain honest to what I am trying to do and keep searching for my personal truth through my work. I don’t want to be stuck with any kind of limitations,’ Stevie said.
All photography by Jacquie Manning and Jessica Maurer.