The Ethereal Animal Sculptures of Anna-Wili Highfield

For 10 years, Anna-Wili Highfield has been working in the realms of ‘life’. The Australian artist is indeed creating the most graceful bestiary you could ever see. Sculpture is her specialty, wildlife her calling. The mother of two gave birth to the first of her paper creatures when she was expecting her first child, celebrating the miracle of nature twice. But motherhood is not the only skill that helps Anna-Wili to breathe life into her sculptures. Her talent to animate cold materials with the warmth of real beasts can also comes from her former job as scenic artist at the Australian Opera, or even from her childhood, watching her puppeteer of father doing his tricks. Her particular talent is praised worldwide, and even leaded her to collaborate with fashion designers such as Hermès and Anthropologie.

Yet, as often in art, we can wonder if the artwork that gives life to the artist. Indeed, the natural materials she uses are dictating the result of her sculptures with their own resistance. As if there was something mystic in the method, a share of energies between the creatures and the creator. The process-based sculptor has no plans, no sketches; she is only using her intuition. It may be this spontaneous technique that gives the dramatic vibrations of the result. The sculptures are thus closer to totemic figures than to creepy taxidermy. A bit ghostly, they seem haunted by the spiritual vitality of their living doppelgangers.
With few effects, Anna-Wili perfectly recreates the poise of big birds and horses, the moving fragility of little birds, the innocence of mammals, and, of course, the fierceness and intensity of big cats. Her creations are displaying a stunning realism, and this, with a blatant economy of materials. They are forged with metal wires and pieces of paper or metal, sewn together with cotton threads, and colored with ink and watercolor painting. If they sometimes seem a bit deconstructed, yet, they perfectly embody the presence and the essence of the animals represented.

The sculptor likes to make her artisanship visible, believing that there is more mystery when you can see. This is the reason why stitches and threads are always apparent. The scruffy look is giving an illusion of life experience, of authenticity. It is what makes the sculptures of Anna-Wili Highfield more than just animal representations. Indeed, they seem to illustrate our hope of survival in spite of the grazes. And that’s why admiring these sculptures is bringing us so much peace.

Anna-Wili Highfield



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