Artist Spotlight: Alice Alva

Wesley John Fourie speaks to Alice Alva, contributing artist in the exhibition All is Full of Love at Broker curated by Fourie, about intimacy and abstraction in her practice.

Date 29 August 2021 Interview Wesley John Fourie Photography Courtesy of the artist and Broker.

Alice Alva, Te Wai puna, 2021, found materials (cotton fabric, glass, plastic and crystal beads, ribbon, acrylic dress fringe, cotton and metallic thread).

Wesley John Fourie: I have fond memories of the works you’ve included in this exhibition, as I installed them with you a few months ago at your most recent solo show (A means to an end, Wallace Gallery Morrinsville, 5 June–4 July 2021). Can you speak about them a little more here?

Alice Alva: Although on the surface my work presents as abstraction, if you start to peel back the layers a lot of my pieces hold intimate stories that are not shared with the viewer. Embroidery is a very intimate and time-consuming process, where I am hunched over (I have always had terrible posture) a hoop, fabric and thread. In this way, embroidery is cathartic but incredibly demanding. I like to think of these works as embedded histories. When working, it gives me time to process emotions, anxieties and relationships, and these thoughts are embedded within the work—often the name of these works is the only clue that the audience is given about these internal feelings and what stories they may tell.

Te Wai Puna reminds me a lot of an artwork you included in our duo exhibition together last year (into the centre of love with you, Never Project Space, 28 August–19 September 2020). What was it that drew you back to re-exploring that work? Do you think your connection to the Waikato informs your practice?

Although I haven’t lived in the Waikato in over a decade, it is my Turangawaewae—when I return it’s like I have an internal compass that resets. Whether it’s driving up the SH3 through Otorohanga or landing at the Hamilton Airport (to the fresh smell of silage), I am greeted with the warm, comforting embrace of Pirongia and, if just for a moment, a sense of calm and stillness washes over me. Kirikiriroa has a great art community spearheaded by the wonderful work that Eliza Webster and Nick Walsh are doing at Never Project Space. I try to show my work in the Waikato a couple of times a year as a means to contribute and connect with where my practice began all those years ago.

For a number of years, I have subconsciously absorbed the colours of my environment into the works I make—this series is made up predominantly of blues and greens, a romantic nod to the hues of Aotearoa. Te Wai Puna is an example of this. I made this work at the end of 2020, while processing and navigating the end of a long-term relationship. Translated from Te Reo Maori to English, waipuna is another name for a spring. Across cultures and centuries, these holy wells have long been associated with new beginnings, life and hope. In its physical form, Te Wai Puna is a bricolage of found craft materials bound with thread. I have always been inspired by the way the bowerbird collects brightly coloured objects (often blue) to create a nest in the hope of attracting a mate, subsequently creating a visual metaphor for life, new beginnings and hope.

It’s funny, after reading the name of Self Portrait in Blue, all I could see in the artwork was you. It’s amazing how you’ve captured your essence, and I wonder what got you thinking about making that piece.

Self Portrait in Blue was conceived during what I consider a ‘depression session,’ where I was struggling with my mental health at the turn of the seasons. It wasn’t an easy part of the year, and what was most problematic about this ‘session’ was that it was the first time I encountered the unbelievably poor state of mental health services available in Aotearoa. I am thankful that I have a number of supportive people in my life who helped me overcome this period, but I am very aware that this is not the case for many. Conversely, Happy Tears sits in tandem with this artwork as an acknowledgement that these feelings are not static, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Installation view, All is Full of Love, curated by Wesley John Fourie, Broker Galleries, Queenstown, August 2021.

Alice Alva, Self Portrait in Blue, 2021, found materials mounted on foamcore.

Alice Alva, Happy Tears, 2021, found materials, frame.

Alice Alva, Happy Tears, 2021, found materials, frame.

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