Kirsten Sivyer (B.A. Visual Arts, Painting) is an award-winning visual artist based in Albany, Western Australia. Sivyer specialises in figurative oil painting and uses traditional multi-layered glazing techniques. Her painterly subjects reflect her passion for lighting, allegory and mood.
Recent artistic achievements include winning the 2017 Bluethumb Art Prize, 2015 City of Stirling Print Award, the 2013 Albany Art Prize People’s Choice Award, and placing as a national finalist in 2018 Collie Art Prize, 2013 Black Swan Prize for Heritage and the 2012 Black Swan Prize for Portraiture. Sivyer’s artwork is represented in various private and public collections.
Interview with the Artist
Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
Inspiration comes in many forms but I am primarily a visual person. I am interested in unusual places and uncommon experiences that bring my mind and senses into focus. It is easy for me to daydream and become visually complacent to the world around me when things become overly-familiar. I enjoy change, a bit of visual drama or even risk in my searches for a subject or idea that I want to engage with and share through my work.
I find objects or scenes say the most and work best visually when there is something a little ‘off’. For example, last week I was considering a once beautiful rose in a vase that was past its peak and starting to droop and lose petals. I have no artistic interest in the romantic “rose in full bloom”. I prefer subjects that encompass a more shadowy spectrum of the human condition.
Do you have any rituals or habits involving your art-making that you can tell us about?
Discipline and time management is important for me as an artist (especially as I also run a photography business and have a baby at home). Over the years I have discovered the times of day that work best for all the different activities required to run my practice as a business. I find the mornings are best for writing down ideas, fleshing out concepts and working on the computer. After lunch is the best time for me to head to the studio and get down to the physical side of art making.
What do you like most about being an artist?
Working as an artist is the most challenging thing I have undertaken but it is also the most pure state of being I know. The act of engaging in creative work taps into a deep intuition and sensitivity that makes me feel truly alive. Art gives me the chance to work independently, overcome internal barriers, apply my vision and develop my business acumen. I find working for myself to be very gratifying. It has taken many years to figure out that I am simply not happy doing anything else.
How do you handle bad days when you experience artist’s block?
I don’t really get ‘artist’s block’ but I have had to learn to switch off the inner voice of self-doubt. To be honest, I have to overcome that doubt every time I enter the studio. Performance anxiety is ever present and I often have to remind myself that while the act of painting is partly an intuitive thing (and I am not always ‘in the zone’), it is also a practical matter, an exercise in making decisions about what needs to be done to solve visual problems. In this case, I can stand back with a pen and paper and list all the things I want to do. It is easier to begin practically sometimes. I find that once I have an action plan and start working my way down the list, even if it’s just painting the edges of a canvas, it is not long until I find myself in the flow again.
Of course some days are just a write off and approaching a painting without the proper attention can do more harm than good. Those days are perfect for cutting timber and making stretchers, cleaning the studio, blogging, researching, planning new works or any of the other tasks that need doing.
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
Achievements are encouraging and I am grateful for the prizes and acknowledgements I have received over the years. The occasional ‘whoop’ of excitement and jump for joy helps me stay optimistic about my creative path.
Taking a broader view, I think my greatest achievement as an artist is that I have continued to paint.
When I finished my art studies in 2003 and began working in hospitality, I realised that my vocation as an artist was going to be a very long road. Art is not something I can imagine retiring from. It is something I expect to pursue until the end of my life. I knew that given time and resources, I would get better and better at what I did and hopefully one day I would be able to focus solely on my arts practice. “Time” was the thing I had to achieve in the meantime in order to continue developing my craft.
To afford time and also pay the bills, I knew I wanted to work for myself and needed a job with flexibility and a really good hourly rate. Two years later I began my own photography business. Ten years on and I have finally managed to create a working lifestyle that allows me the time, resources and head space I need to continue working as an artist.
Do you feel that you want to make a difference to the world or in people’s lives? If yes, how?
I think art by its very existence makes a difference in people lives. I am not a political artist, so I am not trying to change the world with my art. I feel that art is a reminder of our humanity. It is unique and handmade and carries an aura which makes it quite a rare commodity these days. Art is personal, evocative and comforting for those who choose to surround themselves with it. Art is a means of communication, it is how artists send their message out into the world. Art is the story told by musicians, writers, performers, poets and painters. Can you imagine a world without those stories? Without art? It would be like going without sight, or hearing, or taste. There’s the difference.
What are your plans for the coming year?
The plan is to keep working on my new collection of atmospheric landscape paintings with a view towards some major prize exhibitions and my next solo show. I also plan to continue developing my online presence and to seek opportunities to travel, teach and learn.