Stephanie Madison catches up with artist Anna-Wili Highfield to learn about her clients, her waiting list, and why animals make better subjects than people
It’s no surprise to discover Sydney-based artist Anna-Wili Highfield’s paper and copper pipe sculptural works are in high demand – she was last year featured in acclaimed interior stylist Sibella Court’s book Nomad and has a commercial client list that reads like the Who’s Who of the design world with Anthropologie, Hermès and fashion designers Carla Zampatti and Bianca Spender amongst her clientele.
Photograph: Chris Lee
The artist hasn’t been without work since 2008, with her paper sculptures fetching from $1800 to between $5000 and $6000 AUD. Those seeking to commission her are invited to place an expression of interest but may find themselves on a waiting list for around two years. Once waiting time is up it takes about a fortnight to complete smaller pieces and up to three months for large works.
Despite her high profile commercial clients, it’s mostly private commissions from within Australia and across the globe that dominate Highfield’s practice.
An initial foray into paper and copper pipe sculptures began in 2004 with the crafting of a sizeable copper pipe horse for a friend’s second-hand record and clothing store in Sydney’s Camperdown. Then in 2007, she started receiving commissions for her paper artworks.
A former Opera Australia scenic artist, Highfield’s transition into paper and copper pipe sculptures came with the realisation these natural mediums had an authenticity and integrity that suited her “perfectly” although they can only be manipulated to a point.
“I like to let the behaviour of the material guide the forms I create,” she says.
The artist’s creations are born from archival cotton paper stitched together with cotton thread while personality and further dimension is added to certain pieces thanks to her clever wielding of both paintbrush and watercolour paints.
As sculptural subjects animals have proven to hold great appeal for figurative artist Highfield.
“I can’t help but anthropomorphise and see human characteristics in animals but to me, they are a better subject than people. There is something more truthful and less self aware about them,” she says.
Coming up next is another significant project with Hermès at year’s end and some current work with Broached Commissions to produce functional pieces for a new super eco Canberra hotel.