July 24 - 30, 2022: Issue 547


Alyson Bell

Alyson Bell, the Pittwater Online Artist of the Month for July 2022 is a North Sydney Art Prize winner in the same year for her work 'The Twilight Hour'. Created in response to the 2019-2020 bushfires, The Twilight Hour highlights a small window of opportunity before darkness falls in the fast diminishing timeline of climate change.

''In these last moments of light, we are lead to an imminent crisis point where mankind’s incessant path of destruction is juxtaposed with nature’s own quiet beauty.''

Alyson is a practicing visual artist living and working in our  area working predominantly, though not exclusively, with the moving image, video and installation.

Her artworks have been described as poetic and layered and often centre around an emotion or a connection to place. That said, they also have been known to surprise with a unique element of playfulness.

Alyson's background in Design (BA Hons degree, UK), in Film (VCA Film & Television School post-graduate diploma), and Visual Arts (diploma with distinction) has hugely informed her arts practise. With a career encompassing work in London & Sydney as a photographic stylist, designer, magazine art director, advertising art director, film director of museum exhibition videos/commercials/promos and her own award winning short films (both here and internationally) plus an Australian Film Institute nomination have all naturally merged into what is now her current practise.

This week a few insights from the Artist herself.

You have gone from working in magazines to Art; how did that shift occur?

I originally trained as a Graphic Designer so was working within that capacity in the magazine industry, and working on some really beautiful and upmarket magazines. I had to come up with creative concepts, commission photographers, for style photo shoots, (sometimes even paint backdrops) and design the layouts to create visual stories. It was a natural progression to continue developing this into my own artwork.

Why did you decide to live in Australia?

I came on holiday (from the U.K.) for a travel adventure. It took a lot longer than expected, travelling through Asia and other places but I really was enjoyed it the whole experience. I travelled for 6 months before arriving in Sydney with a work visa. I had to work to fund coming back the other way through America and on to London. But this never actually ended up happening as I got stuck in Sydney – more so because I was offered some wonderful opportunities here within the magazine industry. 

Your work combines a variety of mediums; film, imagery and sound to make a very immersive art form – where did that come from?

I am interested in immersive art but not everything I do actually is, as often there are size constraints in exhibitions – but I do like to create an experience.

It’s about touching all the senses really, combining the elements to hopefully inject some emotion into a work – other artists might say the same thing about painting. For me, I just do it this way. I feel it’s more about the idea. This is where my work comes from, and responding to things that may be happening at the time or to things that I’ve seen.

I also have a film background and studied at the VCA Film & Television School. This was years ago and was followed up with an Artist’s Residency at Curtin University in Perth run by A N.A.T. They took 2 artists from each State  to learn new digital technologies within their specific area of practice. This was such a great opportunity as I was able to utilise new skills to combine and integrate  design and typography into the short I was working on at the time.

You also did a Residency at Eramboo?

Yes; I did a 3 month residency at Eramboo in Terrey Hills in 2014 - that’s how I found out about this beautiful artists environment in the bush. I now rent a small studio space there.  

There is a dynamic quality to your work, it’s alike a framed painting that’s pouring out of that frame rather than being a static image – is that what you’re aiming for?

When I was creating Film and Video for the Museum of Sydney and promos, along with a few commercials, you are working within the video format,– that rectangular shape. After a while I started to feel quite restricted by that rectangle.

That’s why I like projection, although it starts out the same shape you can change it by  blacking out parts and completely change its shape so not see the edges, not see the frame. It gives you more freedom.

But I don’t just work with projection – I’ve used video inside iPhones for an installation, and iPads too where the videos masquerade as framed photographs that come alive as you pass. There’s quite a lot you can do. 

Trees seem to be recurring theme in your work – why is that?

I think that’s because we live in an area where you have access to a lot of wild bush, and of course if that’s my environment it rubs off on you and on the work that you produce. 

I’ve created a body of work around the bushfires we experienced over 2019-2020.

I happened to be down the South Coast of NSW in the immediate aftermath… I photographed and filmed while I was down there and that has formed quite a number of works. 

It’s very haunting - you can’t escape the effect of that.

Tree Spirits, the 2021 installation, along with The Twilight Hour, both carry a message about climate change, the latter artwork about taking action in the time that we have left, which is not very long…Tree Spirits is more about hope. 

Prior to those bushfires Into the Pathless Woods was another focus on trees.

Your installation for The Game as part of the Avalon Beach art festival of 2015 was a very popular work – that was a great fun work, the child and the balloons. Did you enjoy that?

Yes – but it wouldn’t be very PC to do that now, the image of balloons floating off is not one we want in an area where they could float out to sea!

There is also an influence or essence of air in your works – not just the pieces on birds, you also incorporate the sound of breeze into some of these, and not just breeze through tree leaves; She Flies with Her Own Wings for instance or Bird: Work in Progress – where does that stem from?

The Bird: Work in Progress Project I will finish one day. In this I decided to try my hand at Animation and it’s been going on for quite a while, it’s very time consuming and moves at a snail’s pace. I started this with a lot of enthusiasm and taught myself along the way.

I got my birds flying, and that spring-boarded into other smaller, more manageable bird works.

I haven’t as yet finished the main project but it has taken on a life of its own in other ‘bird’ areas!

I just have to dedicate the time to it and finish it. This would be an immersive project as well, and would be over three or four walls.

Have you always been a creator?

Yes, definitely, it’s always been there but I didn’t go down the Fine Art route at the time. I studied Graphic Design, and that was mainly because my parents said ‘you’ve got to be able to get a proper job when you finish’, I think they were right – I did get a good solid career out of it for many years.

Congratulations on winning the 2022 North Sydney Art Prize for The Twilight Hour; it was fantastic to see your work receiving this recognition. What Exhibitions do you have coming up?

Thank you. The next is in November at the Grace Cossington-Smith Gallery in Wahroonga. It opens on the 5th of November. I’m in a group of five contemporary Artists for an Exhibition called ‘Untethered’ – It’ll be another large-scale installation.

Why do you like doing installations?

I haven’t done that many large-scale but if you’re given the space then why not? Very often when you’re in a group exhibition they tell you one metre wide, maximum, and then you have to think quite differently. For ‘Untethered’ I have my own room, so I have a big space and will be making the most of it!

Do you have a sense of your work developing, where do you think you will go next?

It’s amazing how little things can spark an idea and off you go in pursuit. Sometimes you might see a call-out for an exhibition that asks you to respond to a theme, and you might relate and create something especially for it. So it depends – I never know where its going to come from, but it does. At times you may think you’re living precariously on an edge but I always trust in myself that I will come up with something and I almost always do.

Things happening in the news definitely rub off on me – mental heath for instance is another subject I’ve worked with in installations, especially during Covid lockdowns; it was quite interesting what came out during 2020 and 2021 – Existential Angst came out of that time – and grew.

As an Artist you’re often working in a solo space, spending time alone or isolated to do the work – with Existential Angst you seem to have gone even deeper into that.

(laughs) Maybe – but that’s what is quite nice about working in a place like Eramboo because there are other Artists there; we may not be working together but you come together and you can see what other people are working on, and that may inspire you as well even though you’re working in a completely different medium. Eramboo is a great environment to not be alone in, even though you are working in a quite solitary way most of the time.

How do you strike a balance – most people realise that making a living as an Artist is not going to make you a millionaire – how do you earn the bread and butter so you can make jam?

I still do paid commercial work; I have made short videos for other artists, designed an Artists’ book for Wedderburn artist Suzanne Archer, along with other commercial design jobs.

As you say it’s the bread and butter. Some Artists Teach, others provide Workshops in school holidays. I work in design and video.

So what would you say to any young person who is thinking about making a career out of being an Artist?

Well, I’d say ‘go for it’ definitely, but be prepared to work a normal job as well, or work in an associated area and keep the two running parallel. If you realise from the outset that’s what you have to do then you will find a balance to follow through.

Do you have any favourites among your works so far?

One of my favourites would be Never-Ending Tide. That was shown at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum.

That won the 2015 Kennedy Prize in South Australia didn’t it?

Yes- but there I showed it on the floor. So it was projected from above, it was life-size, in a darkened room, and was quite impactful. In Manly it was shown quite differently, in the open lit gallery space and projected onto a wall, so a totally different approach really. 

I’m very fond of that - it says an awful lot to me, that particular piece.

What were you trying to express through the Never-Ending Tide?

It’s all about the inter-connectedness of humans with their environment, the coastal environment of Australia really. We’re all enveloped in the tides, the tide washes over the sleeping girl,the tides are being governed by the cycles of the moon, and it is said that a woman’s cycle is governed by the moon as well, or at least it used to be when we were more in touch with our environment. It's nature's rhythm.

How do you deal with the physical aspect of setting up an installation – there’s been a fair amount of travel to galleries as well; you’ve exhibited at Robertson in the blue Mountains, up to Gosford – how do you do that and do it well? 

Those shows were for an image that got picked up by the Head On Photo Festival for their touring regional exhibition before landing in Sydney. The exhibition was called 2020 Vision and they also produced an accompanying book. 

This again was from the bushfires – but I’m ready to move on from that now!

Your partner is Volker Klemm, who does so much for Avalon Beach surf club – are you as involved as he is?

Not to the same degree as Volker. I was more involved when the kids were little, I ran the uniform store and did the designs for the kid’s state carnivals uniforms. But since the kids left that I haven’t been involved.

What are your favourite places in Pittwater and why?

I love it around Cottage Point. We did live there many moons ago in an old fisherman’s shack, and loved it there. We’d jump in the kayaks of a morning and enjoy the water, the beauty. 

I love the rest of it too – I love all the walking tracks through the bush and the beaches too, obviously. We’re so lucky to live here.

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase that you try to live by?

Do what you feel you ‘NEED’ to do.

If you are an Artist then it’s something that is resides deep within you. It is something you NEED to do. You are going to create Art no matter what. 

Obviously it can be really hard to make things work in the Art world, and there is only a very small minority of people that are considered successful if you apply a financial sense to anything. but If you keep doing it, keep chipping away at it, then that too is a success in having done what you’re here on earth to do.

Find out more at: www.alysonbell-visualartist.com.au


 - Video Installation


Adelaide. South Australia November 19 - 28 2015


Manly Art Gallery, NSW October 30 -November 29 2015

5.30 min looped digital video projected onto bed sheet

with sound 120cm x 195cm

NEVER-ENDING TIDE reminds us of our deep connection to the coastline of Australia and its imprint on our psyche. It reminds us of the power of the moon and of the cycle of life itself. On the brink of womanhood, the sleeping girl acts as a metaphor for these connections and of her future in an uncertain world.