For many, the image that springs to mind when upon hearing the word ‘collage’ is a frenzied primary-school class, spent hacking apart magazines and peeling Clag paste off fingers and out of each other’s hair. Moving forward several years, the word evokes different recollections. Memories of high school books covered in cutouts of our friends, crushes (celebrity, of course) and the odd class timetable jammed in, towards the back. Here, Sydney-based artist Bella Grist, armed with an arsenal of old National Geographic magazines and gardening books, chats to RUSSH about farm life, family, and making collages all grown up.
How would you describe your artworks?
Lots of colourful imagery and old magazine clippings placed together to create a funny or strange final image which has been redefined and placed into a new context. I like to think I am recycling and resurfacing perhaps forgotten imagery.
What inspired you to start creating the works using old magazines?
I think a love of photographic imagery and having so much of it in the form of National Geographic [magazines] and old gardening and cook books in front of me allowed me to pick and choose images I liked. To be able to create something new really excited me. I really enjoy using outdated magazines as it breathes new life into old images and also gives me an insight as to what was worn, eaten, trendy etc. over the decades. The grainy, saturated, colourful photographs you fine in old magazines have a certain quality I like. I also like to think that I am doing a little bit for the environment through up-cycling old imagery and creating works from used materials.
How long does it take to complete one of your collages?
I usually just surround myself (the whole living room) with all the cut outs I have, and then pick and choose what I think works together, so it can take anywhere between two minutes to two hours to get one exactly the way I want it.
Are there any recurring themes throughout the pieces?
In terms of materials, and the idea that you can make pieces entirely from used and recycled imagery, yes. But I haven't intended on there being a running theme through the collages themselves, which I think is what makes them versatile and fun. I like to think that the audience can create their own meaning from each collage, perhaps connecting them in one way or another.
What do you hope people will feel when they look at your works?
Lots of laughs and hopefully people are attracted to certain collages that they can relate to or remind them of something.
Do you dabble in any other mediums?
I always have a 35mm film camera dangling off my arm or hidden in my bag so I am always taking photos, excited by the unknown outcome. I like that using film makes you shoot wisely, as film don't come cheap.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up? What was your introduction to art?
I grew up on a beautiful farm, just north of Orange, NSW, with Dial-up Internet until I was about 16 (there is still no phone reception), so creating activities to keep me entertained is probably where making things became a high priority. I loved helping on the farm, mustering sheep and cattle on motorbikes with my dad and grandpa, in the yards and shearing shed, and when I wasn't doing that, my sister and I were probably fighting over which Nintendo 64 game to play.
How has your family influenced your artworks?
My dad was a huge collector of bits and bobs which definitely influenced my need to hoard magazines and materials, but he was also heavily into woodwork when I was young and I remember school holidays spent down at his workshop making temporary structures with cut offs and extra pieces of wood laying around. My grandma is an amazing cook and helping her was a great creative outlet growing up. Mum is just a legend. And my sister, who is a fantastic graphic designer and photographer, has influenced me heavily. We used to live together and had heaps of input into each other's work.
What inspires you most?
A clean working space (which is super rare) really inspires me, new magazines and of course Instagram, blogs and co.
Describe your studio for us ...
A living room in an old terrace house - usually where little pieces of paper and cat fur blanket the floor, so there are definitely some cat hairs embedded in some of my collages. I did get really organised the other day though, and got some drawers and folders to put everything in so my housemates can use the living space too. There is still a huge stack of Nat Geos and Encyclopaedias crowding the house though.
Do you have any hidden talents?
It's a really long list but I'd like to think that my most notable is my whistle.
WORDS Victoria Pearson