Welcome to the inaugural article of The Oxford Student’s ‘Student Artist Profile’ series. Over the course of the next few weeks, we are hoping to bring awareness to the incredible artists in our midst and highlight Oxford’s promising art scene by allowing artists in our community to speak about themselves and showcase their art. This series will also provide insight into the creative and inspired minds of our artists here in Oxford.
We are kicking it off with an interview conducted with Alice Hackney, a first-year student at St. John’s College, studying Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art.
Question: How would you describe your art style?
Alice: I love working with materials that give my work a fragile quality, and anything that looks pure or clean. I’m always striving to have my artwork look as though it was barely brought into being, somewhere between solid and disintegrating away.
‘Sympathetic Environment’ Alice Hackney
“I’m always striving to have my artwork look as though it was barely brought into being”
Q: Is there any particular subject matter/theme that your art tends to focus on?
A: I think a word that can be used to connect most of my work is ‘vulnerability’. At the moment I am fascinated by the simultaneous strength and weakness of our natural environment, the way we continuously abuse our planet’s resources, and increasingly the ways in which our environment is fighting back against us.
On a more local scale, I also make work about the vulnerability within communities, focusing on my local town and the tragedies that have occurred there. Hyde is a small town on the outskirts of Manchester and is home for a lot of my family. It was also home to many of the victims and perpetrators of the Moors and Shipman murders – two of the most prominent serial killings in British history, taking place in the 60s and 90s respectively. The number of deaths from these cases totals around 250, so it is still a subject very close to everyone within the town, including my family. Last year, I created a memorial piece for the victims from Hyde, which you can see pictured below. There is a small paper sculpture for every confirmed victim, and each one contains a trace of jewellery. Shipman stole jewellery from many of his victims as a trophy, and after his trial, hundreds of pieces were either returned to the victims’ families or auctioned for local charities. The lasting impact these horrific tragedies have had on my town is something that I find recurring in my work, even in the pieces where it is not explicitly the subject.
‘Hyde 1998’ Alice Hackney
“At the moment I am fascinated by the simultaneous strength and weakness of our natural environment, the way we continuously abuse our planet’s resources, and increasingly the ways in which our environment is fighting back against us.”
Q: Where do you source your inspiration?
A: Most of my inspiration comes from my surrounding areas. When I’m not in Oxford, I live on a farm quite near to Hyde, so I have the best of both worlds to inspire me – local history, forests, farmland, and clean air.
Q: What is your preferred medium?
A: I find this such a difficult question! Throughout the later stages of my art education, I found my friends discovering the medium that was right for them whilst I have continued to flit. Maybe the day has just not come yet where I find my ‘thing’, or perhaps I will continue to work in a way where the subject I am interested in determines the media I use. However, I do particularly enjoy working in printmaking and sculpture, and I have a love of soft pastels and PVA glue.
Q: Have there been any exhibitions you’ve visited in the past that have influenced how you create?
A: Seeing David Hockney’s retrospective at Tate Britain for my birthday in 2017 was a formative experience for me. The exhibition was divided into the different eras of his life, and the materials and styles he was using at that time, including painting, video, digital drawing, and photography. Seeing an artist be so successful whilst continuously changing his art style was really comforting to me in a time when I felt behind in finding my place within the overwhelming art world, and I like to remember this moment whenever I feel unsure of my art style.
“Seeing an artist be so successful whilst continuously changing his art style was really comforting to me in a time when I felt behind in finding my place within the overwhelming art world, and I like to remember this moment whenever I feel unsure of my art style.”
Q: Who are your favourite artists? And Why?
A: At the moment I’m finding a lot of inspiration in Ian Hamilton Findley’s ‘Little Sparta’, a garden created by Findley to house many of his artworks. Yet, the landscape is in itself as much a part of the artwork as any piece placed within it. The garden is easy to explore on the website, and it feels as close as I can get to a day out in lockdown. I think I love this piece so much because it is a whole experience. The immersive environment he creates, where every aspect of what a viewer sees is curated, reminds me somewhat of Disneyland, but in a Fine Art way – the two things I love the most. To create some kind of large-scale environment like this is a huge goal for me and is something I am starting to make in a smaller way. During the lockdown, I have built a small room that aims to give the viewer the experience of being underwater and looking up at the melting icebergs above you. It’s still a work in progress, and at the moment it just feels like the exciting beginnings of something.
‘No Nails Left to Cut’ Alice Hackney
Q: Lastly, could you please describe your favourite piece or one you found interesting to complete.
A: Last term I made a set of sculptures for a piece entitled ‘Shell’. These casts are made by coating one side of a bedsheet in plaster and throwing it over a person curled up into a ball, making sure the plaster is not touching any skin. I tested this method on myself first, and I can tell you it is not the most pleasant experience. The sheet is very cold at first, but as it sets on your body it gets increasingly hot inside the cocoon. After 10 minutes the plaster blanket is dry enough to remove from the person and they usually come out needing a shower and a cup of tea! I would love for this series to expand, but unfortunately, it is not a very social distancing friendly artwork to make. Hopefully next term I can make a few more if I still have any volunteers left who are willing to be cast!
‘Shell’ Alice Hackney
A big thank you to Alice for discussing with us and letting us into her creative world. If you’re interested in what you’ve seen and read and would like to see more of Alice’s art, don’t hesitate to follow her art Instagram account: @alice_hackney_art.