The Bright Side by Ellie Williams is a unique creation of beautiful pieces of art work which incorporate drawings, digital painting and inkjet work that reflect and unveil historic photographs of communities and landscapes in St Austell Bay. They are currently in display on the stairwell of the multi-storey carpark at White River Place in St Austell town centre until the end of May. Helen Mallett, Communications Placement Intern from Plymouth Conservatoire, asked her some questions.
What draws you so much to St Austell? – I’ve spent a lot of time working in and around St Austell over the last 15 years. I’ve made many special connections with fascinating, brilliant people in the area, and feel a huge sense of familiarity when travelling through. And of course, the uniqueness of the clayscape; I’m sure it’s not an unfamiliar story, but I can remember the first time ever driving from the old A30, off at Victoria, up through Roche, heading towards Holmbush, and ultimately on to Eden. Seeing chalk white pyramids with their rain-etched surface and creeping undergrowth… Strange clay monoliths with dense turquoise lakes… It was astonishing, and fairly mind-bending. I’m not sure that my brain could quite compute what my eyes were seeing, to the extent of doubling back around the roundabout to catch a second glance, and once more on the way back down. How could I have never been here and seen this before? An extraordinary and otherworldly place hidden in the faraway hills; hills that until this point had simply been an indicator of bright, clear days from further down the line, appearing out of the mist and sharply into focus on the horizon.
How do you choose between various landscapes/locations? – I’m often drawn to unusual landscapes, places that might be overlooked, or presumed less ‘beautiful’. I grew up somewhere with vast networks of fields, hedgerows, and ancient tree lines that are regularly interrupted by industrial structures; often bizarrely shaped, but totally functional. It doesn’t surprise me that St Austell, and particularly the clay landscape captures my imagination. I think there’s a beauty in the familiarity of a place, in the shapes and icons that define your understanding of that place and the sense of what living within or ‘coming from’ that place feels like, rooted or uprooted.
What is the process for making your pieces? – I knew for this project that I wanted to explore more than landscape. I wanted people, local to the area, to feature in the images, and to explore and celebrate everyday moments that at various points of the last year or so have been hard or even impossible to enjoy: birthdays, weddings, even a simple walk on the beach.
I love colour and wanted to go all out with some vibrancy, joy, and general saturation. Maybe it’s my slightly odd painter’s reaction to the effects of lockdown – if I’m doing colour, I’m doing all of the colour.
The process itself also informs the work. Like many creative journeys, you start with an idea or some provocation, and the material that you’re using begins to suggest other ideas. The paint does something unexpected, a particular colour, or the contrast of certain imagery sparks another thought. It’s a conversation.
What’s it been like being part of the Random Acts Of Arts? – It’s been a joy to collaborate with the rest of the RAA team. Sheila, Gemma and Maya our community champions have been particularly generous with their thoughts, and in allowing me to snoop through their personal photo archives, some of which feature in the final images.
Also, entering into a scenario with a great gang of artists with so much to give and ready to go has been exciting and energising. The energy in the Zoom room was palpable from the very first meeting. It’s brilliant to see all of the projects unfolding in so many different forms and settings and I’m looking forward to the rest of the ride.
I’d also like to say a big thank you to Anna and the team for asking me to be involved and welcoming me onboard.