Q&A : With Annie Edney – Part 1
The Annie Edney Interview : Part One.
Versatile melbourne artists Annie Edney began her artistic career working in one of London’s biggest recording studios before starting her own clothing label in the 80’s. After a decade of success, Annie left all that behind to find fullfilment traveling across Australia and working with local communities.
Now Annie is a prolific artist in her own right who has travelled the world and had her work exhibited in world class galleries. Getting the opportunity to sit down and talk to her about her career so far is a privilege… even if she doesn’t remember too much about being a guest at one of Eric Claptons Weddings.
By : ZH
Good Morning Annie, thanks for taking part in this Q&A. Let’s jump straight in. A lot of your art is about creating a harmonious relationship with nature. Where did this desire come from and how do you go about creating that in your art?
Where does it come from? It might have come from growing up in the bush and playing, you know, as small children, me, my brothers and sister, just randomly in the bush where there was sort of no limits.
We could go as far as we like, as long as we were home by dinnertime. And just developing that, kind of, I don’t know, instinctive, intuitive relationship with the natural world from doing that.
But also, I’ve been very aware for a long time, for at least 30 years, on a more conscious level of the need to be aware of the degradation that our human habitation is doing to the planet.
And wanting to be as active as I can in my way, in whatever way I can offer in trying to educate people about that through my work. So for a long time, it was through the community projects I was doing, by setting up projects designed to inform people about the local environment.
Now, through my studio practice, my thinking has evolved to needing to reimagine our human relationship with the earth. What if you were communicating with a tree, the tree is not going to be speaking back to you in English, it’s going to be something else.
So I think, fundamentally, what’s at the bottom of what I’m thinking now is that we need as humans to open our consciousness and our psyche, to other ways of communicating then just human ways of communicating, you know, especially about screen communication.
So I’m kind of looking at intuitive instinctive feeling things, things that are more about the heart and feeling then they are about the mind and the intellect. Does that make sense?
It certainly sounds intriguing. Having a greater understanding for our environment is something we all should strive for. How about your early environment, where abouts in the country did you grow up?
I grew up in North Ringwood at the Top of Loughnan’s Hill, about 15km east of Melbourne. My father built the house we lived in and there were no other houses up there. Everything all around was still bush… not now though!
Were your siblings creative like you?
I’m the eldest of four… two brothers and a sister. I’m the only one who really pursued a life of making and art. They’re all creative in their own ways; Environmental scientist, Arborist (who made beautiful wood carvings for awhile) and my sister teaches Sanskrit chanting.
What did your parents do? How did they support or influence your art career?
My father was an engineer and had his own business putting electricity through areas that didn’t have it yet. We moved around a little. My mother was a very industrious stay-at-home mum.
My teachers in high school urged my parents to let me study art, however they thought fashion would be better for making money, and it was a two year course, whereas ceramics, I was good at clay, was four years.
When you were in the bush were you already creating art?
I wasn’t painting and drawing back then. I was making things, sort of always been making things, I’m a maker just got to be making, I’m happy when I’m making things. Actually no! I was drawing, I used to draw horses a lot. I suddenly remembered the horses! I drew horses all the time.
It sounds like you were connected with your environment from back then and it’s always stayed with you.
Yeah, I think alongside actually making things the quality that makes a person an artist is to have an enquiring mind and to want to know where this comes from, what it’s made of. Needing to enquire about everything!
COVID-19 has hit everyone hard. Here in Victoria we had to self isolate for months. How did the isolation change your approach to creating art and your creative relationship to the environment around you?
But it made me long to be in a forest. Because here, of course, it’s very concrete and asphalt and inner-urban, which I love. But initially, I just thought from a very personal intimate place, this is heaven for me!
I’ve got a really good excuse to stay inside and be on my own and make work and not have any interruptions. And that’s the ideal for visual artists. Of course, if I’m a performing artist, it’s a different matter, you’ve got to have your audience.
And, of course, there are other layers of emotional responses to not being able to see friends and family and the broader sort of more global grief aspect of COVID, which has been really powerful. Of course, we’re all part of the whole thing. And as individuals, we have real responses to what’s going on.
But I just quite early on, decided to use the time to transform my practice in a way because I had been doing for a long time, years and years very detailed pen and ink work. And physically, it doesn’t suit my body.
My body doesn’t like sitting still for long periods of time. And while I’m doing that pen and ink work, I don’t even think about time, I’m just doing it, but my body goes ‘Oh, do you really have to do that’.
So, I just wanted to start exploring ways of making work where I don’t have to sit down all the time. Working on an easel is one way of doing it. But the way I’ve developed working is very physical, and it’s about movement and liquids. And it’s probably fairly unique way of making work. But I’m really happy on all levels for how it’s come out.
How did you develop your pen & ink style and the new colourful movement style of art you are currently experimenting with?
Trial and error. That’s why this time was good for me because I had time to try things out to test ideas and you know, do a lot of experimentation until I found the kind of paper I want to work with all the different aspects of making work, I had the time to explore it.
When I’m learning new things, I like to do a lot of it at the time I’m learning it, and then you really explore it fully. So I had the time to do all that.
The pen & ink I’ve been doing that for probably about 15 years, quite a long time.
What type of paper do you use for your new work?
Most of the recent pieces have been made on smooth cold pressed 270GSM, and I’ve made a couple on very special 640GSM… P320.04 Arches Aquarelle 640GSM CP 75x105cm 5 100% to be exact!
What inspired your pen & ink style?
Hmm… I really love pen and ink, detailed pen and ink work when I see other artists doing it. And I always used a proper old fashioned nib with a pen handle and real ink. Always the proper pen and ink.
And I like these techniques that still live on that have been in use by humans for a very long time. I’d love to do bronze casting and they do that the same as they used to do it in medieval times. But that’s another story.
But I don’t know that anything particularly inspired… maybe the woman in the art supply shop showed me sennelier inks and the type of inks I still use are very beautiful. They have shellac in them, so the surface of them reflects light more. It’s beautiful to use.
What pen do you always have on you?
I always keep a Lamy in my handbag.
A wall filled with Annie’s new colourful experiments.
As an incredibly prolific and diverse artist who has had a clothing business, worked with communities and local governments on projects and festivals and is now a freelance artist who has exhibited your work in several galleries. What continues to inspire you to create?
Everything! Everything! I could never stop being an artist, It’s in my marrow. And I am constantly inspired by everything around me by the light, by colour, by sound. Everything inspires me. The trick is to channel it into one area and not spread it out and be doing too many different things or get carried away and just go in so many different directions.
In the late 70’s you went to London and found work as a personal assistant at Trident studios. Trident Studios worked with some of the greats, including The Beatles, David Bowie, Queen, Elton John and the Beegee’s. What was that like suddenly finding yourself within that world?
Wild… It was fantastic! I was very green, 23 year old Australian with kind of, I don’t know, a wide open approach to life. All I wanted to do then was have fun and travel. And I didn’t think I was going to stay in London, I thought I’d go there briefly and then travel in Europe.
But London just opened up for me. And in fact, is where one of my current research questions sprang from, because I just felt like I’d been there before,
I felt so comfortable in England and with the English that I felt like I’ve been here before. And now I realise, because now my question that I’m delving into is that we hold all of our ancestors memories in our DNA. So those memories will be activated in London and, and I felt like I was a bigger better, part of myself. I just had the best time.
Did you meet many musicians of the day?
Yeah. I was at Eric Clapton’s wedding or one of his weddings. I was very drunk.
Wow! Do you remember anything about that wedding?
Hahaha! Not really. I remember I was wearing very high heels, Drank too many peach melba’s (champagne with half a peach marinated in brandy) and stayed up the back with Robin my boyfriend and one of his roadies…
There are so many stories. I worked at one of the four biggest R&R recording studios in London at the time.
All the big names came through there. I got to know some of them, mostly from Robin’s management company ‘Hit & Run’, who managed Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Phill Collins and all their engineers and producers.
But these aren’t my stories, and aren’t you doing a profile about me?!?
(Laughs) You’re absolutely right, and that brings me to my next question. It’s about the next chapter in your life… Soon after returning from London you created the clothing company ‘Waisted Talent’. Did the experiences at Trident Studios inspire you to take charge of your creative career?
Yeah, in several different ways. I mean, I very quickly got a boyfriend who was one of those musicians and a producer at the studio. And so I’ve mixed with those people all the time.
And I got a really close look at what it’s like living something other than a nine to five life working for other people. And, you know, if I worked hard, I didn’t get the credit, my boss got the credit.
But these guys were always acknowledged when they did well. And I started really hankering for that. So that was a driving force, actually, for me to do that.
And also, I just had a lot of confidence from being in that world. And I came back with a lot of confidence. You got to have a lot of confidence lets be honest to start a business (laughs)
Where did the name ‘Waisted talent’ come from?
There was a little known band management company called ‘Wasted Talent’ in the 1980’s. Since we were making belts, ‘Waisted talent’ seemed appropriate. It was memorable because of the humour I think… people certainly remembered it.
You secured orders for your belts from the famous Melbourne department store ‘Georges of Collins Street’ and ‘Galleries Lafayette’. For the new generation who try to sell things solely online, explain how important and difficult it was to build these industry relationships?
Well, I think word of mouth remains one of the most potent ways for your reputation to grow. And for people to understand who you are and what you’re about and what your work like. And now that happens online, of course, but for me, I knew someone at George’s.
I loved George’s, and I used to go in there when I was working near… I used to work in the advertising industry before I went to England, and I’d go to George’s for sweet relief.
I really became close friends with a guy who was managing George’s accessories department so they sold the belts and the handbags and things. And so it was through him he introduced me to the buyer and that was how we got our first order at George’s.
I don’t remember how we got the Galleries Lafayette order, might have been through that buyer. that woman Christine Dunbar, her name just popped into my head. She was an incredibly stylish woman and internationally connected, so it could have been through her.
We showed our work regularly, like initially, we were making belts to start with. And then we made some garments and had an exhibition in a gallery. And so people could see it.
And then those garments went into a fashion parade. And that’s where the agents who picked us up saw the work and started to sell it for us. But you do have to put the groundwork in to become known.
You also had exhibitions in your own factory.
Well, that’s right, not immediately but probably a year after I came back from England, I was living in a warehouse. And it was a one of four warehouses set around a courtyard, so beautiful, about 100 meters from here.
One of the girls who worked there, her partner was in a band, it was a really good little Rococo pops band, they would come and play for us, we’d get our friends, we were friends with gorgeous people, they would come model.
And we would serve champagne and charge for the champagne and invite all the buyers and the people who were in the shops and wherever that were selling our stuff, but also other people and smart friends.
And then we would send the money that we got from selling the champagne off to a feminine in Ethiopia. Then we used to do this, Gosh, I have this crazy memory we used to put on a play at the end of the year.
So we’d have to be rehearsing at the busiest time of the year when we were making up the most orders, we’d get the girl who was kind of my right hand person, if you like, it was her initiative so she’d choose a play, and we’d all have to learn parts and rehearse it.
But you know, all of the things you do… and the crazier the better. In many ways, you know, if you’re trying to sell art, or be a presence or be a character that’s memorable, then anything from the name, ‘Wasted Talent’, or wasted whackers or wasted goddesses or whatever we called ourselves. It all adds up to building a memorable impression on people.
Fitzroy back in the 80’s must have been such a cool bohemian hub.
Fitzroy was really happening then, yeah. Just lately during COVID someone set up a Brunswick street bohemian Preservation Society or something. And they’ve been posting photos of the fringe parade that used to go down Brunswick Street and all sorts of things from the 80s.
It was a really happening, active, lively, arts oriented place. People just did things people just read poems at a party, they didn’t wait until they had the funding. They just did it.
You lived and worked out of Fitzroy, employing eleven girls, working hard and partying hard. What was it like living and working out of Fitzroy back then, and what was it like working as a group of women in what must have been a still very male dominated industry in the 80’s?
Well, you know, I don’t know quite how this happened. But I never considered being a woman to be an impediment at that stage. In fact, it was an advantage.
You could be crazy and silly and flirty and fun, which perhaps as a man you couldn’t you know, maybe you had to be a little bit more serious and we used to wear outrageous clothes and we kind of turned being a woman into an advantage.
We just had a lot of fun. And this is important in terms of how the label as an identity developed, we just wanted to have fun. And we wanted to love our work. And I wanted to create a work environment, that was something that I would love coming to every day.
So you invest a lot more of yourself, if you’re going to love going there. And it was easy to love, it was such a beautiful space. And we were making beautiful garments,
It sounds like a magical and memorable time and a beautiful place to work and be creative.
I was living downstairs and the work work room was upstairs because the light was better upstairs. And so the girls were like my family, they would come in at 10 o’clock in the morning, and they’d go at six, but they were in my space, you know. It was a lot of fun.
And it was a much more personal kind of workspace than perhaps many others. And the girls, I’m still in touch with some of them, and they feel very privileged to have been there, and to have shared that time with us.