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Interview with Elise Sheehan


'Plotlines' by Elise Sheehan is a new exhibition, now on display at Milly Sleeping in conjunction with the 2015 Craft Cubed festival. Elise installed her show on Monday afternoon, building an assembly of little landscapes about the shop (while passing on hot restaurant and happy hour tips). Each 'tableu' comprises original hand-made objects, ceramics, jewellery and illustration. While we chatted, I put together a list of questions for Elise; below are her thoughtful responses:


ES: I think my early drawings were aspirational … Always rows of girls in nice outfits and pet dogs. Or architectural layouts of houses with attics and playrooms, and decadent features such as kidney-shaped pools with fountains and four car garages.

[Now, drawing is] a nervous habit. It’s unthinking.

Early attempts to translate 2D drawings to 3D objects were not incredibly successful. I came to realise if I treat the material as the line, and manipulate it into the shape I need it to be, I will have far less trouble.

I intend my pieces to be an extension of myself. I want them to be able to express awkwardness, tension, confusion, indecision, exasperation and, most importantly, humour. I like things that are funny.

I consider internal and external space, light and shadow, absence and presence. I am interested in things that are deceptive - such as something that looks heavy but is very light, or a trick of the eye.

I like empty signs, shop windows that house displays with nothing on them, or frames around nothing - because these are all blank and message-less and allow for interpretation. These spaces can simply express the nothingness of being, which is hard to capture or otherwise depict, but something that I return to often in my thinking. On the absolute flip side of that, I fill pages and pages or spaces with lines and forms that convey a kind of tension or busyness that I think sits perfectly along side nothingness.

Everything vs. Nothing – a never ending investigation.

Formalising space, filling space ... Highlighting empty spaces, harmony, neutrality.

Perhaps I am obsessive? I think I am sensitive to some materials, moods and matter that lend themselves to the themes of my work. These seem to be the things I seek out when walking in the street, or in my surrounds.

… I am prone to over-complicating things but, at the same time, tend towards quick results and minimal solutions, which can often feel simple. I am drawn to basic shapes, mostly clean surfaces, limited colour palettes and symmetry, but [also] like the rough, wonky and intricate things that oppose my attempts at restraint and minimalism.

In trying to keep it simple, I guess I then over-compensate. I overwork objects, or jewellery, or ideas - adding more and more elements, iterations or features - to feel like I have worked on the project, or to get a sense that I have spent adequate time resolving the idea. Often my first approach was perfect and I could/should have just left it at that. The initial idea is usually the final idea, with a lot of legwork in-between.

… Sometimes, in an attempt to put my best foot forward, I pretend I am somebody else when writing about or promoting my work - rather than feeling uncomfortable or inadequate or stunted by flaws that probably only I can see and am trying to convince others aren’t there. I attempt to see the work as an observer would, and relay only that information.

There are always telling things that others see in your work, that you have never noticed, not intended or didn’t realise were even there.

'Ghostlike' or 'peaceful' are two recent observations I've received. I think it’s interesting that while I often see my work as busy or lively, it can be read as very still.

'Quirky' is a description that I like less...

Having the opportunity to work in different spaces that consist of curves, angles, shelves and surfaces allows for new resolutions. Having a determined space in which to install work definitely informs the type of work I will produce and the display solutions.

I definitely tend to work across a landscape layout. It is easy to imagine each singular jewellery piece or object as a sketch on a page when displayed this way. The separate pockets of space available to me at Milly Sleeping helped to formulate the idea that ‘Plotlines’ would comprise several shorter stories or small vignettes that carry on throughout the space, retaining a common narrative.

… I am quite resistant to thinking about jewellery on the body. I know that’s where my work is destined, and it’s a privilege that people should choose to adorn themselves with something I have made... But I see my jewellery stagnant in a space, or as a stand-alone object (that occasionally takes an outing on a body).

I think the description that sits best with me is ‘maker’. All parts of the making process are important to me, however I find the part that consumes me the most is having my hands on the material and just making.

… Pen, paper, wire, one great file, a pair of pliers and lots of white paint - all other tools pale in comparison.

I very much enjoy the process of making, but I don’t enjoy the laborious aspects of finishing things. I often have a bulk of work sitting in my studio near finished for quite some time before I find the motivation to complete it. I am very much driven by loose ideas rather than finished results.

I think if I sat still or stopped working when a project was over, I would be filled with fear. I have realised that if I continue to produce things, even if they have no intention, they usually find a destination.

Maybe for the first time ever, I am content in Melbourne, yes...

I always thought it would be important for me to go somewhere else to make work – somewhere sparse and unpopulated – opposed to this familiar metropolis that consists of memory. I guess I won’t really know until I go?

In the meantime, there is joy in Winter, chance encounters, random finds, and really really black tea.


'Plotlines' will be housed at Milly Sleeping until September 13. Please join us at the official opening this Sunday (August 16) between 3 and 5pm. All welcome.


Hello and goodbye.