A WAFTA Studio Visit Review

June 3, 2019
Community

Nalda Searles Studio Visit 4/5/19 by Heidi Sanders


I had the great privilege to attend the WAFTA visit to Nalda Searles home and studio.

Nalda's house is an intriguing treasure trove, and it is hard to convey the impact a visit has. I am still trying to process all that I saw and learnt on the visit. In her veranda/studio, long trestle tables held items of her work representing decades of her career. While these were predominantly basketry/sculpture based using natural and found materials, she has also worked in other diverse forms including clothing, and jewellery. I was particularly taken by one of Nalda's large basket pieces from the 90s. It is a large nest shape form that is actually hollow. It is composed of natural plant materials stitched together. At first glance its shape is very strong, and symmetrical. However, up close, the many elements of which it is composed - grass, leaves and grass tree bark have a more random effect... almost like chaos brought together into the strong and simple shape.

A self-confessed collector of natural and recycled things, Nalda's house is filled with an amazing collection of art (her own and others'), natural objects, found objects and books. The lounge room, whose walls are lined with books on all manner of subjects...art, cultures and philosophy, as well as beautiful objects both natural and created, a set of drawers lined with felt and displaying small pieces, and pieces of art and jewellery. Everywhere, intriguing displays of objects that hint of meaning, history and symbolism, nestle beside ordinary objects for everyday living. I felt it was a place I could spend weeks inside and never stop being inspired and delighted.

Todd Israel, Nalda's nephew and protege, spoke about and showed his beautiful work, sculptures exploring themes about the body using natural fibres, and techniques such as basketry and netting.

Naldas talk was inspiring. She spoke of her life, her career and influences, and her philosophies. I was particularly taken with her discussion of connection to the land and nature. This seems to have been a life-long interest, but she spoke of her mentor Eileen Keyes teaching her that a piece should "grow out of the earth" and have "refinement in a natural way".

Nalda also spoke about a life of learning techniques and passing them on to others, including Indigenous Communities. It seems a way of sharing and being out in the world as part of the creative process. Now, Nalda said she was content to spend more time at home, with her shed full of collected materials, working on an intensely personal series of work around the theme of female sexuality.

After the talks by Nalda and Todd, we were free to look further at her home and studio; and catch up with other members over a delicious afternoon tea.

Visiting Nalda and seeing her work was a unique and profound experience, and I feel it will live in my mind for years to come. As someone who habitually picks things up in my walks - feathers, leaves, stones and found objects, it was an inspiring experience to see the work of an artist who has spent decades using such items to create such powerful work. I was very pleased to bring home her beautiful book and DVD too so I can keep dipping in and discovering more.

Many thanks to Nalda, Todd and the WAFTA committee for making this possible!

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