“Sassy, introspective, dreamlike!”
Those are the three words Lotte Alexis would use to describe her work. Unlike most, Lotte doesn’t just use one medium to showcase her creativity, but many. We had a chat with the Sydney-based artist about her work, her inspirations and the responsibilities that come with being a creative in the 21st century.
We sit down to chat medium and social media with Lotte Alexis, one of Sydney’s most reflective visual artists.
HAPPY: You showcase your creativity in a lot of different forms. Which would you say is your favourite and allows you the most creative freedom?
LOTTE: Drawing would probably be my favourite. I really enjoy the physicality of drawing, working with my hands, and the repetitive movements scratching away to give texture is really meditative. When I’m life drawing as well or working on bigger pieces, I feel like a cat in that I will squish or arrange my body around the work I’m making in the most impractical ways but for some reason I will be able to focus better. One of the reasons I’m drawn to making murals is also the physicality that goes into it. The act of working on such a bigger scale is so satisfying but drawing will forever be my number one.
HAPPY: How long does it usually take you to finish a mural?
LOTTE: Usually one to three days. I’ve learnt to work fast because of time limitations from painting at live art gigs. I’ve found it hard to quote larger murals now though, which is exciting that those opportunities are coming but again, the physicality of getting up and down the walls just takes more time.
HAPPY: Your murals are a different style to, for example, your Weight of Love project. Where do you draw your inspiration from and how do you choose which style to use?
LOTTE: When I first began spray painting, I had tried to recreate my sketches exactly and it just kept breaking my brain. Then I started to loosen up and try morph my style to suit the qualities that you can get with spray paint rather than fight it. I used to also beat myself up about the fact that I had multiple styles across different mediums but now I feel like I have more creative freedom. I’m an over-thinker so it helps me categorise my ideas that may feel chaotic and conflicting.
Reflecting on my drawings and illustrations in comparison to my murals, they give me the opportunity to show different parts of myself. Because the murals are in public spaces I think about the nature in which people will be seeing the pieces. It’s something you stumble upon in unexpected places so I make sure the designs are bold, colourful and immediate in the energy they put out, so something sticks straight away in the viewer’s mind.
In projects like Weight of Love, where I predominantly create drawings, I feel more opportunity to flesh out a narrative knowing that the space in which it will be shown is probably a gallery setting where people have made a conscious effort to sit with the work and examine it. My inspiration for projects like this come from research into a bunch of different ways other creators have told a story through camera angles, lighting, scenery, characterisation and body language.
HAPPY: You lived in Berlin for a while. How would you describe the difference in the art scene compared to Sydney, or in Australia in general? Do you think it’s easier to be an artist in a city such as Berlin?
LOTTE: I lived in Berlin for three months doing an artist residency. It was a bit of a whirlwind of an experience but I remember thinking that if I were to live there for an extended period I would like to make Berlin my base and outsource work in neighbouring countries. I felt that though Berlin was bursting with awesome culture and stuff to do and see, to make a sustainable living as an artist it might be hard to find consistent work because of the over-saturation of people trying to do the same thing. There were other cities though that I was able to find paid work in that are using street art to create new tourism opportunities.
Comparing this experience to Sydney I do feel there are some similarities. The most consistent work I get with my mural art and live art are with organisations that are looking to hire artists to ‘activate’ a space and use the art to help encourage a sense of community. That work ends up being in the outer suburbs of Sydney’s West and South, again I think to help build interest if it’s an initiative from the local council or a form of ‘anti-advertising’ from companies trying more innovative campaigns. In all honesty I’m a little torn over the future of Sydney’s art world. I can’t speak on Australia in general but from artists I follow there does seem to be interesting opportunities popping in places like Melbourne, Adelaide and Queensland.
That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities in Sydney, it’s more that I see the future of Sydney culture becoming regulated and not allowing for more creation and innovation. I have a pretty romanticised perspective of where I would want to see the future of Sydney art to grow, I’d love to see the government allow funding for artists to do what they want without an agenda driven by profit or marketability.
HAPPY: Do you think being active on social media is crucial for artists nowadays? Do you feel there is a certain pressure on you to keep up your account’s aesthetics and constantly having to post new content?
LOTTE: I think if you are with an agency or gallery that represents you then you might be alright, but for the rest of us social media is pretty important. This question is really interesting as it’s been something that’s been bopping around my head for a while and affecting my mental health to the point I had to go on a social media hiatus end of last year. The pressure to have new content constantly saw a drop in the quality of the work I was posting just to have something readily available. I was beginning to hate my work and lose sight of why I enjoy making art because I wasn’t giving myself enough time to see a vision through or allow for failure and experimentation to grow. It was a really horrible feeling.
Also, because a lot of my work is sharing my own stories but in surreal ways, I felt like a should share a lot of myself to give viewers more context. There are some artists that do this really well in showing what appears to be their authentic self, but the nature of social media is still a process of curating. The conversation I ended up having with myself was “what do you need right now, and what is more important?”. For me it was space to grow and to stuff up so I’ve only been posting things when I’m truly excited to share them rather than to meet a quota. I have huge admiration for people that can pump out quality content on the reg, it feels like a full-time job in itself sometimes, but again my takeaway is to put your needs before your social media needs.
HAPPY: How do you cope with mental blocks and what’s your usual creative work process?
LOTTE: I keep a collection of sketches that I have done over time that have no purpose other than me just warming up for a bigger piece. I’ll start off rehashing an old design and I’ll play around adding and morphing elements to see what happens. I listen to a lot of podcasts while I draw because it’s nice to hear other people’s stories, plus it feels like I’m passively engaged in a conversation where no input is expected of me so I can keep at my art without getting distracted. I read poetry, look at old family photos, I sometimes go for a wander to look at architecture. I finally got an iPad Pro so I will take it out with me and draw friends or strangers on transport.
I like reading up and learning about the ways stories are told through different creative modes like dance and theatre, an example being the film Frances Ha where there is a choreographed piece at the end of the film that uses something called the ‘release technique’ where the dancers look like they are falling. This becomes a reflection of the protagonist’s narrative of being stuck and needs to purposefully fall/fail/do something to see change happen. When things like this strike a chord with me I will jot down a bunch of words or phrases and stick them on post-it notes around the place. I usually don’t do anything with it straight away but I will make sure I’m being constantly reminded of them so it can be ticking over in the background in my brain and over time I start to get more clarity on what direction I wish to take.
HAPPY: What are your plans for the future?
LOTTE: I’m in the process of finishing a diploma in 3D animation as a way to up-skill and see if I can take my art into new mediums. So I’ll be finishing off that this year and gearing up for a big solo show in 2020. Another personal project I’m working on is gathering information for artists to put together a little handbook on industry standards that I can use and other people can use when faced with clients trying to get free work and using exposure as a means of compensation.
One of the best things I learnt about last year as part of my animation course is that there are legitimate resources for artists that provide information of what the standard rate to charge for different types of work is. I didn’t know such a thing existed! So the vibe is to level up on my business knowledge, focus on my studies and work on bettering my art practice and my overall wellbeing by turning my attention to things like hobbies to help me feel more fulfilled and hopefully having new experiences to share.