Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, collage from Whose lights were now seen glittering, a zine for Milly Sleeping and LookStopShop, 2012

TAKE.AWAY: Feeding the creative beast interview
10th November, 2011

This week TAKE.AWAY are honoured to have another interview with one of our faves; the whimsical and inventive duo Gracia + Louise. We've been coveting their zines and artist books for awhile now so we jumped at the chance to grill them on the inspiration behind their collages and drawings. Gracia + Louise generously shared a bit of the process behind their work and collaborations and whats lies ahead this dynamic duo.

Where did you guys meet and how did you start working together?
We met at art school, at RMIT, where we were both studying painting. This was a long time ago now.

What are the benefits to working together, what do you each bring to the mix? Any secrets to successful collaboration?
Working together on the one artists' book or image allows us to each bring something of our own aesthetic to the fore and together let both elements grow into a composition not possible without the other. This is something that has come about slowly. We have been collaborating on artists' books, zines and prints for over ten years now. It is something we are both very comfortable with and there is a sense of knowing what the other will bring. Our collaboration is one of harmony, for want of better word. And perhaps one of reliability too.

Louise leans towards a light palette, and works with pencil and watercolour, whilst I favour collage (both by hand and digitally created), and my palette is a little darker and muddier. I like backgrounds and narrative, a stage, if you will.

You guys are seriously prolific! Any exciting projects in the pipeline? What are you guys working on at the moment?
Thank-you. We enjoy making our work, and one always has ideas. It is perhaps for this reason that we fell into making zines/small publications: somewhere to house those collages and drawings and ideas. Something to share, too.

We are currently working on three unique state artists' books for two different group exhibitions. One exhibition is in Sydney (Shelf Life, Delmar Gallery) and the other is closer to home, in Melbourne (In Suspense, Hand Held Gallery). We are also working towards an exhibition of our work at Latrobe Regional Gallery early next year (February 2012). The next few months will be deliciously busy as we work in our studio all summer long.

We're totally besotted with all the curious little creatures that pop-up in your works, how would you describe the themes behind your work?
We enjoy making our work, said the broken record, and hope a sense of this play comes through. We see our animals as our protagonists and create a scene for them to run through, hide in or carve out as their own. We like to leave these scenes open-ended, and use the title to further this sensation. Some people may see the works as humorous, some might find them sad, or both. Some people may not at first glance even see the animal or bird that flies through.

Your work is an eclectic mix of collage and delicate hand-drawn/watercolour elements, do you use much digital or is it mostly done by hand?
Both. Sometimes a collaborative collage work is digital. A drawing by Louise is scanned, cut out and collaged digitally. Sometimes to the page featuring Louise's drawing, collage pieces cut by sharp pair of honeybee scissors will be added.

Sometimes the collage comes first, sometimes the drawing. Sometimes the background comes first, other times the character or characters on the stage. Sometimes this is a quick process (the composition falling into place) and other times it takes awhile.

In short, it varies so that the dance steps we make are not always the same.

The pieces seem quite carefully composed yet still really playful and experimental. Do you start from a concept or a just general whim? Is it different approaching a commissioned work as opposed to say one of your own artist books or zines?
Our work begins with an idea. A thought. It is made in response to something seen or something read. Or a prickly feeling. From this, a work evolves and a stage appears, we need only to turn on the light. We are drawn to the narrative so this is the pull for us.

As to commissioned work, the process is a little different and begins with visual research before the ideas are gathered and assembled. Then it is best to cast this to one side, set to work unhampered, and see what comes.

The work seems really intricate and considered, kind of like visual poetry really. Where do you find inspiration and all the wonderful vintage source materials for your collages?
Thank-you. Our use of imagery from long ago is in one sense nostalgic, but as we did not live through the early 1900s (and sometimes earlier), this nostalgia is misplaced. Our use of imagery from periods long ago (coupled with those more recent, be it drawn or otherwise) is desirable to us because it is so freeing. We bring no personal association to the image from many decades ago. To us, it is an image that we can add to and manipulate. It is an image that brings only a small suitcase, not great baggage. We know something of it from history and reading, of course, but it is not from our day-to-day. If we were to cut out imagery from a magazine or book recently published, we might actually know something about the image or film or event that would in turn restrict how we used it within a composition. We sometimes find when working that it is best to know as little as possible about the source material so that we can make up own narrative.

Of course, in saying this, sometimes the reverse is true and it is what we know about the image/event/moment in history that is precisely why we seek it out and select it. There are always exceptions to every rule.

Are art and life inseparable? Where do you find the time for so many creative endeavours and how does this practice feed itself into your everyday lives?
They are certainly intertwined. You can see something for a potential collage walking about, reading the paper, in a film. You stumble over ideas out walking the dog or whilst making the bed. In that sense, they are inseparable and agreeable companions, Life and Art.

We find the time because we enjoy doing what we do, and because we are aware that one day this may not be the case. We are seizing what is in front of us whilst it appears in focus.

And lastly where can our readers buy some of your beautiful (and extremely affordable) little pieces?
Through our online store you can find our work, from the smaller prints through to zines and greeting cards (with our work).

Check out more of their amazing work for yourself at their site Gracia + Louise. While your at it check out their gorgeous blogs: Elsewhere (Louise) and High Up in the Trees (Gracia), get the latest from Gracia + Louise on twitter and with Christmas around the corner don't forget to peruse the Gracia + Louise online store.