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In Conversation with Artist Linda Oy Ho

In her first solo exhibition since 2004, sculptor and painter Linda Oy Ho sets herself the lofty task of uniting philosophical and ecological concepts in ‘Cellular to Stellar’, currently on display at St Heliers Street Gallery. We speak with Ho about her new works, her flurry of artistic inspiration, and the collaborative opportunities to emerge from working at the Convent.

Firstly, congratulations on recently being nominated for a third time in the Yarra Valley / Yering Station Sculpture Prize. Third time’s a charm. Do you ever think about the results of such awards or is it more so about the exposure it brings from being exhibited?

Yes, getting shortlisted for art awards has been hugely significant in my art practice. In 2014, my hand-beaded typographic work ‘May Love Conquer’ got shortlisted in the M Collection Art Award for emerging and unrepresented artists judged by Jason Smith, Director of Heide Gallery (at the time), Marita Smith, Gallery Smith and the M Collection. This instilled greater confidence and courage within me to take my art more seriously, which lead me to get a studio at the Abbotsford Convent.

Being selected for art awards has been a wonderful, insightful and enriching process to connect and build relationships with artists, curators, galleries and judges.

In addition, these awards are significant to me, as I have not formally studied a fine arts degree. I feel these awards provide a backbone to my fine art CV reflecting my commitment, determination and dedication. Personally, the exposure is important, as eventually I would like to be represented by a gallery or curated in exhibitions where my art can reach a greater audience.

Through various group exhibitions in the last three years, you’ve managed to attract the attention of critics, being shortlisted for eight awards during that time. What is it about your work that’s had such a strong resonance with the arts community?

Wow, that’s a big question! I think possibly my sculptural artworks convey strong concepts, multi-layered metaphors, quality execution of a unique combination of mediums, and speak aesthetically to the art curators, gallery directors and arts community.

Your current exhibition at St Heliers Street Gallery, ‘Cellular to Stellar’, is your second solo exhibition, the first being in 2004. What’s brought about this renewed artistic productivity?

In 2010, the birth of our daughter, Alisha combined with living in Warburton in the Yarra Valley inspired me to make sculptures from forest branches, painting, crochet and beadwork. Working with sculpture opened a new exciting direction in my art beyond just previously painting and drawing. Also, during 2014 I lived in Switzerland with my partner, Jerome and Alisha for nine months. Travelling in Europe, visiting art galleries, museums and art fairs had a profound effect on my art practice.

Is having your own studio a big driver for productivity or focus?

Yes, having my own studio is very important to focus and evolve my art practice, especially as we have a seven-year-old in a small house in Abbotsford! Since we live nearby, when I can, I love starting early in the studio after a walk along the inspiring Yarra river.

In September 2014, my artist friend, Matthew Quick kindly offered his studio to me for a month while he was away overseas. After this experience, I was sold! I loved being at the beautiful Convent nestled in nature near the Yarra river, in a dedicated studio space and amongst a wonderful artist community. Initially, I had a small studio in the Convent building and now I have a larger studio in the Mercator building to accommodate for making larger works.

You previously exhibited some of the works from ‘Cellular to Stellar’ as part of the group showing ‘Elemental’ in St Heliers Street Gallery last year. Was it a welcome luxury or a dreaded intimidation to have to fill the gallery with all of your own work this time around?

It was a welcome luxury and daunting at the same time to fill the gallery with my own work. Earlier this year, I went on a tangent experimenting with oil and acrylic painting on aluminium, which was fun but not fully resolved to accompany the ‘cellular’ sculptures. During the process, I realised the importance of creating a cohesive, strong, solid show based solely upon the ‘cellular’ sculptures and to develop new work later without a looming deadline. Also, working with arts writer and curator, Sophia Cai to write a catalogue essay, and Stepping Stone Films to create a short promotional film, have added an extra dimension to my practice and this exhibition.

‘Elemental’ was curated by fellow Convent-based artist and designer Eugenie Kawabata. Has having a studio at the Convent opened you up to more collaborative opportunities?

During ‘Elemental,’ I observed Eugenie’s professional marketing campaign including Instagram, Facebook and Mailchimp. This experience contributed to the marketing campaign of my solo exhibition ‘Cellular to Stellar’ which has created exciting art connections and opportunities. Yes, certainly I feel having a Convent studio opens up opportunities. Also, in 2016 Convent painter, Rick Matear kindly invited me to be a part of his ‘At the Beach’ art exhibition in Sorrento.

I have not collaborated on any other specific projects with other artists, yet discussions, feedback and support from the Convent arts community has been monumental for the development of my art practice. Many thanks to Convent colleagues Ralf Kempken, Matthew Quick, Eugenie Kawabata, Michael O’Hanlon, Joanne Saunders and more.

Your current work sits somewhere between painting and sculpture, using highly textured, concave shapes hung in groupings on the gallery walls. How do you describe your practice?

In this series, I have created ethereal, reflective and highly detailed painted stainless-steel sculptural wall artworks exploring the interconnectedness of all life from the microcosm to the macrocosm, darkness to light and the ephemeral to eternal. Deeply inspired by renowned scientist and environmentalist, David Suzuki’s book ‘Sacred Balance,’ I unite concepts from philosophy, spirituality and ecology highlighting our innate connection and co-dependence to the natural world. The formations suggest rising landscapes, the elements of nature, human biological structures, interstellar constellations and moons.

What’s the significance of the concave, circular shapes you employ? As well as giving your work a physical depth, does it give it a philosophical depth too?

The connected concave circular shapes represent cells within greater life forms. The concave form draws the viewer to look deeper into each individual circle as a part of the collective whole reflecting the concept ‘All is one.’

Interestingly, the concave circular vessels are often interpreted as convex vessels. I like this duality, as this is representative in the titles of my work. For example, ‘Infinite Universe Within’ unites the external world and internal word together, reinforcing the concept of interconnectedness.

Can we expect to see more work from you in 2017?

For the remaining of 2017, I will experiment with mediums and develop new work. I will further evolve a new series of large organic form wall sculptures. Alongside, I look forward to beginning a series of textile, metal and mixed media sculptures from my art journal.

‘Cellular to Stellar’ is at St Heliers Street Gallery until 2 September, alongside ‘It Could Go Either Way’ by Rebecca Thomas and Natasha Sutila.