Anna-Wili Highfield has led a charmed life. The daughter of a puppeteer, she spent her childhood surrounded by wonderful and fantastical creatures. Like the talented adults who raised her, Highfield is drawn to making complicated sculptured animals with the simplicity of paper, watercolor, and thread.
From her father's career in puppetry, Highfield learned the foundations of color, form, and movement. Watching and helping him make puppets allowed her access to more sophisticated techniques in creating art pieces. A graduate of the National Art School in Australia, Highfield worked for two years as a scenic designer for Opera Australia prior to embarking on her sculpting career.
Highfield first started to work with paper when she wanted to make something special for her baby. That first project was a Fair Wren, and at the time she used only colored paper and glue. She enjoyed working with paper, and as her technique gradually evolved, she moved to archival cotton paper, sewing torn pieces together, eschewing all adhesives. Highfield's process is simple—she looks at images, but doesn't draw preliminary sketches, stains the paper and tears it, then starts to sew the creature. Highfield's process is guided by instinct--she feels her way through the process, allowing the materials to guide her to the final outcome.
Trained as a figurative artist, Highfield's first and foremost inspiration is nature. In addition to paying attention to the great outdoors, she also carefully studies the illustrations and photographs of bird and art books -- and even Google images. As she noted in an interview for the blog Upon a Fold, "I like to make a portrait of a creature and try to capture the life in that animal. The next inspiration is the medium. I don't do any planning or drawings because I like the materials to dictate the composition and form. I like materials that have a resistance to them, so that you can be lead by the material. I think more exciting forms are created this way."
Highfield has a cult following among art bloggers, but her work has also appeared in top publications including Vogue Australia, Instyle (Australia), The Sydney Morning Herald. Highfield works mainly by commission. Her sculptures have traveled to the homes of people in Sydney, Melbourne, Paris, London, Toronto and New York.
What's in the works for Highfield? She's expressed an interest in working with ceramics, but currently she's working on a series of Australian birds (possibly including a cockatoo) for the Anthropologie Gallery in New York City's Rockefeller Center. And she's getting more international attention. She says, "A French publisher just asked to include my work in an art book. That is pretty exciting. Who could ask for anything more?"
To view Anna-Wili Highfield's work, please visit www.annawilihighfield.com.
Life in/on/with Paper
Anna-Wili Highfield's Paper Pets