Vanessa Harper-Mathews is a self-confessed creative nomad. Working between her two homes in Sydney’s inner-west and the Byron Bay Hinterland – the latter on 25 acres of subtropical rainforest with spectacular views of the Byron coastline – this interdisciplinary artist specialises in combining 21st-century digital imagery with 18th– and 19th-century antiquarian photographic printing processes. The result is work that explores a wonderful intersection between the material nature of one-of-a-kind, historical articles and the ephemerality of the contemporary digital image – work that contains unique marks from its maker.
“Each of the historical processes I work with has a distinctly individual hallmark, evident in the resulting artworks, from the different types of chemistry and techniques that go into the processes,” explains the artist. “The works record the marks of the maker, and each are exceptionally unique.”
Some of the historic processes Vanessa works with are incredibly labour-intensive and require long hours spent in the studio, “sometimes 12 to 14 hours straight if I am preparing for an exhibition!” says the artist. But like many of her peers, Vanessa craves and relishes these long hours of creative immersion.
Responding to a world where mass production is damaging the environment, exploiting low-income labour and devaluing consumer goods in a throw-away world, Vanessa likes to think her work encourages viewers to slow the pace of their visual experience, inviting them to stop and consider how we make and see art today. “It is slow art,” she says. “It is about purposely stepping out of the frantic pace of the internet age and slowing our minds down, encouraging us to contemplate art slowly and take in the sensory experience. It is also about a return to bespoke art created in the realm of artisan ateliers, with a focus on showcasing and celebrating the unique features of handmade artworks as precious points of difference.”