Artist and poet Allira Henderson first captured our attention with her turquoise-tinted instagram feed of life, love and salted sunrises, beamed through our screens from the wild west of Australia. We loved her work so much, we commissioned her to create a painting that encapsulated the wild, salty sentiment of our signature candle, Ocean Isle. On the eve of the opening of her first online exhibition ‘Petite Maritime’, we thought you’d like to know more about the sensitive soul behind the wild seascapes.
We were recently studying our map of Australia and finally found Esperance. We didn’t realise you were so far round, almost in the Great Australian Bight. Western Australia is such a huge state! How did you come to be there? Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in Esperance, so I'm lucky enough to call myself a local. My family moved here in the 1960s. My grandfather was a young journalist and started the local newspaper, working his way up to editor. After he left the newspaper, I worked alongside him in his picture framing shop for 10 years. His lessons through this time are priceless to me. I like to think I get my love of words from him. As a child, growing up in Esperance was complete magic. My parents were adventurous and my father's love of the ocean and the bush permeated through everything we did. I grew up spending days on end at turquoise-coloured beaches, running along some of the whitest sand in the world, diving around islands and exploring hidden places deep in the heathland of the coast – just being generally immersed head first in nature.
It was a very beautiful childhood and I guess I had the best of both worlds – intellectual conversation and a true connection with my earthly surrounds. I never knew how lucky I truly was but I savour it all now and share my love of it with Christian and the girls. I don't think I could ever live anywhere else. Esperance itself is a jewel and is isolated enough from the rest of Australia to keep her that way which is just perfect by me.
Do you see yourself as an artist first, then a poet? Or do you think the two go hand-in-hand. One informs the other?
I have never thought of myself as a poet. To be honest it feels strange to be referred to as one but I like it. I write solely to express how I'm feeling at a certain time so my writing is very honest and sometimes I feel slightly exposed by my own words. When I was young and going through some really bad times my writing was extremely dark, looking back it scares me, it's beautiful now to write from a place of love. As far as being an artist, I have always considered myself to be an artist, not in the commercial sense, but simply because I have always felt the quintessential need to create with my hands. It's a huge part of who I am – my identity. In recent years my art has slowly began to merge with my words, I paint and write now from the same place – an extension of my experiences. Artists often talk about their journeys. I think this merging of words and art, for me, is a pivotal point in my journey, one I am constantly listening to and trying to follow.
Who are some of your favourite artists and poets? Influences?
Influences and inspiration. What glorious things. They really can be derived from anywhere, such as just a glimpse of coast through the pines that line our town. As far as words go I am constantly influenced by classic poets like Hemmingway and the most swoon worthy lover of all time, Pablo Neruda. They spark such lush ideals of love and lust. To flip that coin however, my complete all time favourite poet is the dirty old man himself Charles Bukowski. He adds such a realism and grit to his words that have me constantly going back for more. I often like to play with such grit with my own words, adding a depth that comes with sharing real experiences and feelings. As far as artists, where to start. I ponder regularly over the works of the dark realist Andrew Wyeth, his limited pallets, deep green blue shadows and depth of field always grab me. I also adore the work of Egon Schiele with his distorted human forms and smudged lines, I constantly refer to his use of thick white paint in unusual places and I love how his images evoke strong feelings, even if they are of disgust at times. As much as I paint seascapes I feel like I still have a huge journey ahead to reach where I'm happy with my own art so I try not to be influenced by a particular artist or movement in that genre. In saying that, Claude Monet's seascapes will forever be classically my favourite. Such a man is always a muse no matter how one tries to ignore it.
Your instagram feed is so unique and authentic. We are totally enamoured by your beautiful images of life by the sea and the way you weave mesmerising poems of love and loss into your story. It’s like taking a journey back in time, when life was more connected to nature and at the whim of the weather. Do you think this is still true in this day and age? Is it really as dangerous as it seems out there on the open sea? We’re always left worrying that Christian won’t make it back!
Christian has worked on the ocean since we met. Back in 2005, he didn't even own a mobile so it would be a kiss goodbye and then two weeks later, he would wander back in through the door to surprise me. As technology gets better, I now hear from him quite regularly which funnily enough, can make me stress even more. I'm always waiting for the next text! As far as workplaces go, I think that being a fisherman, or working on the sea in today's world is like working on the last frontier. There are many safety systems put in place but unlike other workplaces you cannot simply walk or run away if something goes wrong – you are bound to ride out the storm or situation on that little floating platform surrounded by water. Help too, is often hours away so if the boat does go down or an accident happen, you are at the mercy of the elements and your own wit. We have both lost friends and community members to this vast stretch of coast that lies before us. It's a massive expanse of space out there. Christian can work a distance of roughly 700km along the south east of WA, right to the South Australian border. It's a wild old place with cliffs that run with no end in sight and multiple islands surrounded by jagged rock. You can go months without seeing another soul. Unlike a lot of other occupations, working on the sea you have to still be deeply in touch with your instincts and inner intuition. Christian has to try to know things before they happen and be constantly alert. He juggles all this and still manages to parent his girls beautifully from sea, a true master.
You refer to your sea shack as your ‘happy place’. What’s your favourite thing about living by the ocean and what are some of the ways you connect with, and bring nature into your home? We notice that you have lots of fabulous vintage furniture and collected treasures. Would you say this style best expresses who you are?
Our home is our little sanctuary. Tucked in far beyond the dunes, it's slightly too far from the sea to be called a true beach shack but you can still hear the waves when all is quiet. Its extremely small; there’s not many doors on rooms and the kitchen is really only big enough for one, and yet we live here comfortably with our two kids and large expanse of pets. Christian jokes that it feels like a mansion after being on the boat for a few weeks. Both Christian and I place a lot of connection to objects and experiences. It has taken us a long time to achieve but our whole home is built of stories. We've collected found objects, secondhand and vintage pieces and filled the shack’s rooms, each piece having its own intricate, and sometimes intimate, story. Stories that belong to us as a family and stories that belong to other people now weave their way into our everyday life. I think a home should always be a direct reflection of its occupants and for our little shack, this could not ring truer.
As an artist, how do you bring rituals into your daily life. Do you have some favourite things you do to create an environment that’s conducive to being creative?
Ever since I was small I have woken before dawn. There is nothing quite like feeling the freshness of dawn on your skin whilst watching the sun gently awaken the world with its golden kiss. Now that I live such a busy life – parenting, working full-time and Christian away a lot – this time before everyone else rises has become my precious alone time. It's something I treasure. My daily ritual is to wake well before the sun, stretch and drag out all of my art supplies. Because the shack is so small our entry/sitting room is where I paint and each day I have to pack away my easel and oils so everyone can move about. It is a lovely ritual to gently pull everything out to set up to paint. I have a system of letting the cat in, feeding him, making coffee, rearranging my brushes and finally feeding the cat again before I even touch oil paint on canvas. Some days I end up only writing, even with the easel in front of me. Other days I madly paint until 7am when I then quietly pack it all away and shower for work. It's a beautiful routine that serves me well.
The week before this current situation we all find ourselves in, you launched your very first group exhibition at The Cannery in Esperance. It’s such a shame that the exhibition had to close but we see you’re opening an online gallery. When will this be up and running? Can you give us some more details?
The whole world at the moment feels upside down. As for progressing forward with my art online, I have also hit a bump. I was hoping to have my work photographed by a professional photographer to put up on a Blue Thumb gallery online, but that has proved difficult with current restrictions, so for the time being I have opened up another Instagram page, @salted_sunrise_studio, to sell work directly through there. I've hosted one online exhibition that went remarkably well so I will continue this line until the world rebalances itself. If any good has come out of all this, it's that people are pushing their ideas of creativeness. It's quite beautiful to watch how everyone is bending or reforming into things they never imagined. It's really worth recognising and acknowledging this across many platforms. For me, owning art is a luxury, I think making it affordable and accessible is the key to survival for artists at the moment.
To see more of Allira's work visit @salted_sunrise and @salted_sunrise_studio.
Shop the collaboration SWC X Allira Henderson here