Outside In’s artist of the month Estelle Woolley shares how art has given her a sense of purpose and how Covid has inspired her latest body of work.
When and why did you start making art?
Art was always one of my favourite subjects in school and I naturally excelled and spent endless hours outside the classroom working on different pieces because I enjoyed it so much. At A Level I was selected for the Young Artists in Italy Bursary amongst other A Level students in Cheshire, where we went on a study trip to Florence for 9 days. For A Level Art I scored one of the top 5 marks in the country and it was an easy choice for me to decide to continue my passion for the subject at University Level, where I went on to gain a First Class Honours Degree and Masters in Fine Art from The University Of Chester.
How would you describe your work?
I minimally and poetically use materials, which are often very fragile, to explore possible narratives and layers of meaning. By subtle manipulation I hope to renew a sense of curiosity, while always highlighting the beauty inherent in the forms used. The work is multidisciplinary in nature, (and can include performance, sound art, photography) but most often utilises object juxtaposition.
What inspires you?
The cyclical element of the processes in nature inspires me, as do the insignificant details that we might often pass by. I am interested in ways that we work with or against nature; how we react and intervene, and how nature responds back at a domestic level and beyond. I am often drawn to fragile, natural materials which resonate with me, which are often macabre. I enjoy the play between attraction and repulsion within my work and provoking a feeling within the viewer.
How has Covid impacted your work?
Covid has influenced the subject matter, the making process and the exhibition process of my recent body of work, ‘Pandemic Nature Masks’, 2020. These are a series of photographs originally conceived for a commission with Chester Virtual Bandstand, where the call out was to create work inspired by the pandemic. With limited access to my studio during lockdown, I was restricted with my use of materials and decided to use what I could find around me during my daily walks. I adapted to the situation and have found myself exhibiting and promoting myself through several online platforms. I have enjoyed and embraced sharing my work in online exhibitions and magazines, whereas before this year I had only physically exhibited in the traditional way. One of my highlights was being contacted by the New York magazine asking to feature one of my images in their article on masks. My work also made the front cover of the Sustainability First Art Prize publication and was chosen as the cover image for the Ty Pawb Open.
What is your process?
I continued the practice of ‘daily walking’ at the start of lockdown which spilled over into my artistic practice. My series of facemasks were composed of delicate and ephemeral natural materials, foraged from my walks in the countryside. I have been homing in on my immediate surroundings, paying close attention to the plant life as it comes in and out of season and collecting objects and materials which spark interest or meaning, then assembling these onto a mask and taking a self portrait. These materials change as the seasons change. Early masks in the series were made from buttercups, dandelion clocks and forget me nots, for example, each with their own narratives. Other masks used more macabre materials such as black butterflies, bees, and a wasp nest. While as we transcend into Autumn/Winter the masks are made of materials such as beech nuts, snow berries, and poppies.
What role does art play in your life?
Art gives me a great sense of purpose and achievement, I really believe that it is food for the soul and the process of creating art has been very beneficial to my wellbeing over the years.
What are your hopes for the future?
I would like to be able to make a full time living from my work eventually. I put a lot of effort in and it’s a shame that the arts seem so undervalued in our society.