Conversations with the Makers

An array of questions to fibre/textile artists and their answers.

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Conversation with Elizabeth Lada Gray, Australia

Elizabeth Lada Gray

I am a still life painter in oils, a mixed-media artist, a collage maker, a storyteller, a community history researcher and a sometimes workshop tutor who lives in the foothills of Mt Wellington, Tasmania.

Trained as a textile designer, I gained a Bachelor of Fine Art in 1982 and have participated in over 50 art exhibitions (group, 2 person and solo) in Australia and overseas and my works are in numerous public and private collections throughout Australia and overseas. I lived in Italy and France 2002-2006 where I experienced art as an everyday occurrence and also lived briefly in Hungary and France. I have a Bachelor of Education in vocational teaching, gained a Master of Fine Art and Design in 2013 and am currently at the Tasmanian College of the Arts working on a community history project the involves Tasmanian migrants and their mementos.


Conversation with the Makers (CWTM) Did you always envision life as an artist?

Elizabeth Lada Gray (ELG) Yes, as a child I wanted to be an art teacher.


CWTM What was your first experience in making art?

ELG Drawing on the walls at home as a child (allowed). 

CWTM Do you have a dedicated studio?

ELG I seem to have occupied windowless basement studios all my art life. Currently I am in the light on the 3rdh floor of The College of the Arts building in Hobart with a view of the city, mountain and water.


CWTM Can you describe a typical day?

ELG 4.00am meditation (when disciplined) otherwise I am on the computer, reading, planning art and life, eating breakfast then pack lunch. 7.00am bus to city and quick walk to the art college studio where I spend most of the day preparing canvases, drawing, painting, a quick post prandial nap in a quiet corner of the library, write and research for assignments, more painting, home about 4.30pm. By 6.00pm I worry whether the time/energy input has produced what I expected – countering the worry with swift house management matters. As I have no TV, I read books to move myself into another realm before sleep.


CWTM Would you consider your art making to be more about the process than the outcome?

ELG The process is important to work through issues of the ‘what and why’, medium, size, colour and spatial arrangement of images so that the story telling can emerge as I paint. The outcome, successful or not, is the natural end product of intense and prolonged processing. 

CWTM Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating so enticing?

ELG Yes. I am always reminding myself to finish the work before it is finished to ensure there is the tension of something not said, not shown. Particularly when telling someone’s story via images and text.


CWTM Any indispensable tools or equipment?

ELG I use the best materials and equipment and because they are costly I treat them reverently and clean them thoroughly after use. High quality paintbrushes are necessary and ‘baby wipes’ are essential for cleaning brushes, pens, palettes etc. 

CWTM Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?

ELG My pieces are planned because they are about other peoples’ lives. I always leave room for inspiration and adjust the original idea as the artwork proceeds.


CWTM How do you now when to ‘stop’ – when do you consider a piece is actually finished?

ELG Quote (unknown): ‘Artists never finish their artworks, they simply abandon them’. 

CWTM Your greatest source of inspiration is…

ELG My greatest source of inspiration is the stories people tell me and the objects and photographs they show me. 

CWTM Favourite quote?

ELG Moments of melancholia are an artist’s godsend because they compel one to focus on minuscule matter. 

CWTM When do you do your best creative thinking?

ELG Early morning, alone.


CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

ELG Everything about the making of art whether I am in the depths of despair or exhilarated by a rare moment when the image emerges from the background perfectly formed. 

CWTM Best advice you’ve ever received?

ELG My mother said ‘learn to type’ as a backup skill when I said I wanted to do something ‘arty’ with my life. 

CWTM Worst advice you’ve ever received?

ELG Other than my mother’s one piece of advise, I take very little notice of general advice, so I may have missed the worst advice or it is yet to come.


CWTM Best part of the day?

ELG Very early morning, alone. 

CWTM Who would be 6 people that you would invite to dinner?

ELG Sarajane lada (graphic artist); Lady Jane Franklin (19th C adventuress); John Wolseley (artist and environmentalist); Raimond Gaita (philosopher and author); Stephen Fry (polymath) and Chef Marco Pierre White (someone has to do the cooking). 

CWTM What inspires your creativity?

ELG Anything and everything inspires me. I am constantly listening to peoples’ stories because with them come visions of extraordinary lives I can tell with pen and ink, paint and brush.


CWTM What are you excited about right now in the world of textile art?

ELG Textile art was my first foray into the arts so it holds a special place in my ongoing experimentations with painting and collage because textile art ensures the inhibiting exclusive boundaries that divide ‘high art’ and ‘craft’ are dissolved by high ranking artists who use textiles to express contemporary themes. 

CWTM You’d be lost without…

ELG I’d be lost without a computer and my 40s something grown-very-wise children. (Not always in that order).


CWTM What would you do with a few extra hours each day?

ELG Create more paintings. 

CWTM Your favourite luxury in life…

ELG Chanel No. 5 Perfume. Plus ordering the absolute best linen to stretch for my paintings and having the stretchers made by skill craftpersons. 

CWTM Has the advancement of computers and technology impacted your work?

ELG Absolutely. I can research endless images and information and contact people within minutes.


CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

ELG Seeing the joy on the faces of the migrant participants of my research whose mementos and souvenirs I have painted as precious objects imbued with their stories.


CWTM Is it important for us to be recognised by the art world and if so, how can we help affect that change?

ELG It is important to be recognised as practising artists because we convey through our practice the state of the world whether through gigantic or minuscule expression via all forms of traditional and contemporary art. Australia is a great country for exposing art whether through museum galleries, major financed galleries, private galleries, popup galleries, out-back sheds or in homes. Just keep putting the art out there so that it eventually permeates the entire population, accepted or not.


CWTM What is next for you?

ELG If I survive the intensity of my 2014 research studies and subsequent paintings I will apply for entry into the Tasmanian University PhD program so I can continue painting the precious mementos and souvenirs of migrants before these ‘simple’ objects fall into oblivion.