Welcome to the latest instalment of the Creative Women at Work series. This month the Broad is introducing you to artist Michèle Heibel.
Michèle was born into an artistic Swiss-German family and spent most of her childhood years in Switzerland’s Bernese countryside until her family settled in Australia in the 1980s after a period spent travelling the world.
After training as a graphic designer and working for many years as a designer and art director at magazine house ACP, the desire to return full time to creating art took hold. In 2009, she made the decision to leave her job, became a mother, relocated to the Hunter Valley Wine Country and began creating her unique artworks. Today Michèle shares a studio with her mother Dorothée Heibel, who is also an artist.
Her delicate artworks on black clayboard are created using only a needle and possess a whimsical quality that will often belie a serious message within. Her use of silhouettes has been said to be reminiscent of the traditional Swiss art form of Scherenschnitt, the art of paper cutting design.
Many years ago, the Broad worked with Michele when she was a graphic designer at the Packer-owned ACP magazine house in Sydney and has followed her career as an artist through social media. The Broad asked Michèle to share with readers her process and inspiration for her artwork.
Where do you draw your ideas from for your artworks?
My ideas come very much from my everyday life and can happen anywhere, at any time. Quite a few on the toilet late at night, actually! Which makes perfect sense when you imagine the toilet is just a chair in a small, enclosed space where you are granted absolute privacy for a time. I’ve always valued a private space. As a child I hung a torch in my wardrobe and painted a window featuring a night time winter scene on the inside of the door. I loved nothing more than to take my thoughts in there and escape from the world – though I sometimes wonder if it freaked out the next family that moved in there!
Can you describe your process?
I use a pin, screwed into a metal handle to etch away the black India Ink layer and reveal the white Kaolin Clay layer beneath. I use no other tools at all and work in a crosshatch style.
Why did you choose this style of art?
My mother (who is also an artist) had ordered some painting materials and was sent samples of Clayboard Black. I remember I had just finished breastfeeding and was bound to the chair with a sleeping baby on my lap. I began by trying to draw the big tree I could see out the window and from that moment on I was hooked. I love the challenge of working in the negative space and finding layers in this medium. If you get it right there can be both a wonderful intimacy and powerful focused energy in a miniature work.
What drew you to making art?
There is no “before art” for me. My earliest memory is drawing a face on a banana. I do think I was very lucky to be born into an artistic family where creativity of any form was celebrated and valued. There was a period where I entered the workforce and did not draw by hand for close to two decades – something I used to think of as a terrible loss. But I’ve come to realise that this time as a graphic designer was not wasted and was actually the period of my life where I developed the skills and avoided the trends that now make my artwork my own.
How has your work been recognised?
Recognition is important to me but it can come from many sources. I have felt as happy about a beautiful judge’s comment as I have hearing a high school student point at my work and say, ‘That is so cool.’. I do create works to be seen and being mostly bound to home over the years (as a carer and single parent) it has often been my only way of meeting kindred spirits.
Are there artists you find inspirational? If so, who are they?
There are so many artists I find inspirational for who they are as a person and the character they inject into their artworks. Vanessa Stockard is a wonderful example. I understand there is much to be gained from studying someone else’s style, but in the end it is originality that I value above all else and I am very drawn to the ones that have a clear ‘face’. I feel very blessed to have found my own style and been pretty blown away by the support and generosity some of these long established artists have shown me.
Do you have any favourite galleries or particular artworks you love?
I have a fantasy collection of artworks in my head, a random list of works I have fallen in love with and dream of owning one day. However, I don’t really want to reveal this list for fear of jinxing it! I will say it’s everything including the ‘Kitchen Sink’ by John Bokor. As for a favourite gallery, that is a hard one. There are so many amazing galleries out there and they all deserve to be supported.
Do you have a favourite style of art, such as painting or sculpture?
Not at all. Colours, forms, textures … for me art is not something that can be contained. I can just as easily fall in love with a painting as I can with a wooden spoon, a beautiful piece of fabric, or a stainglass window. I am, however, very much drawn to the handmade, the raw and organic. To me this is what keeps us connected to the natural world. There is much beauty to be found in the artifical but I think it’s important not to lose yourself in it.
Where can people see your artworks?
I currently have works at the gorgeous Gallery of Small Things in Canberra, the stunning AK Bellinger Gallery in Inverell and the beautiful Purple Noon Gallery in Freeman’s Reach. You can also view some of my works and keep up to date with events on my website at www.micheleheibelart.com or through Instagram @micheleheibel and Facebook.