Koalas in Jumpers

Date: 08 Aug 2016
Profiles: Alison Smiles and Dan Withey
Category: Meet Your Maker

Walking up to her light-filled studio in a former shop front, the first impression of Alison Smiles is through the window as she sits deep in concentration working clay on the wheel. The space is 6 Hands Studio in West Croydon, which she established in 2013 with fellow ceramicists Stephanie James-Manttan and Sophie Phillips. Despite its small size, the studio has a lively feel with its own kiln and completed and in-production ceramics occupying tabletops, shelves and stools.

Alison’s materials are clay and porcelain, and with a potter mother she was surrounded by clay from a young age. Her current passion is the rich brown Bennetts Terracotta Clay sourced from the Adelaide Hills. She is passionate about this material, which she loves to throw and work into decorative and functional sculptural objects. She has a fondness for animals with her playful and colourful work inspired by children’s books and illustrations. Alison doesn’t see a difference between humans and animals in terms of spirit and this can be seen in her latest pieces, delightful round jars of chubby koalas in geometric patterned jumpers. One of these koalas, wearing a ‘lusekofte’ jumper is soon to leave our shores, having been commissioned from a collector in Norway.

A new challenge for Alison was to create her first 3D portrait in clay for The Advertiser SALA special ‘Face Off’ – where six artists were chosen and paired up to create portraits of each other in their mediums. SALA Director Penny Griggs and Arts Editor Patrick McDonald put Alison together with painter Dan Withey and the results are two portraits that are fun, light-hearted and a little bit cheeky. Alison and Dan didn’t know each other and created the portraits after only meeting each other briefly. They had a good laugh, took some photographs and then went off to interpret the person they had just met. 

Alison created a bust of Dan, with serious piercing eyes offset by bright orange hair and beard. Like one of her koalas, Dan is wearing a multicoloured patterned jumper that expresses his sense of humour and energetic personality. For Dan also, painting a portrait was something new and he picked up on contrasts such as Alison’s blonde hair with dark roots and a colourful scarf. Dan worked on the portrait for around a week, aiming to capture Alison in his bright and eccentric style. The result is a delightful pale blue Alison with pink nose and white spikey hair.

As if by serendipity, the pairing of Dan and Alison has worked very well. Neither artist has attempted to capture a realistic resemblance of the other, what shines through is that they have captured one another through their shared love of pattern, colour and whimsy. Dan has suggested that the two could swap their portraits, and they would indeed look right at home in each other’s studios. It would also give them a chance to actually sit down have a cup of tea together, share some stories and enjoy a good hearty chuckle.

Check out the portraits during SALA at Keith Murdoch House, 31 Waymouth St, City.

Coming up with Alison…..

It's All In The Making | Ceramic Sculptures with Alison Smiles

In this 5-hour hands-on workshop, Alison Smiles will take you through the steps to create a unique ceramic sculptural vessel that’s functional and full of personality!

Saturday 3 December 2016 | 10.00am - 3.00pm | $130 Materials, tools, morning tea and lunch provided

Only 6 places available so get in quick and book now.

Images (top to bottom): Alison Smiles in studio, 2016, 6 Hands Studio, Photographer Claire Alice Young; Alison Smiles, Various ceramic bowls and vessels, 6 Hands Studio, Photographer Claire Alice Young; Alison Smiles, Pre-fired clay portrait of Dan Withey, 2016, Face Off, The Advertiser SALA exhibition, Photographer Claire Alice Young