Transcript of Alexia Sinclair – Storyteller

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ALEXIA SINCLAIR: My name is Alexis Sinclair and I'm an artist. And I'm best known for my colorful photographic work that is very hard to describe. When I was growing up, I did ballet from when I was four to 14. And when we would do ballet, our teacher would sit down and she would describe how the music should make us feel, and she would describe a very complex story that we were trying to tell with our performances. And that really started to inspire the way that I worked.

When you look at my work, you can see, there's a lot of roleplaying. And I often do work with models who are dancers. They have an amazing grace about them that really adds to the romance of my work. I was fortunate that my parents took me to lots of places that were historical buildings and grand old gardens and that sort of thing. And through visiting those places, I think that I really started to form a vast imagination and I guess the combination of fantasy with dance, and then visiting these huge fantastical places led to me making fantastical works.

Like everybody, I think, in any mainstream school, they study art, and I did, and you get to have a little bit of a taste of every kind of creative field that there are. And when I finished up high school, I went on to study at the National Art School. And I wasn't interested in drawing, and I kind of knew that I wanted to either be in sculpture or photography.

But it's a very traditional art school and they made you draw. And you had to draw for three years, and if you failed drawing, you found everything, which I hated as a teenager. But it really came to drive the way that I work today. There's a lot of illustration in the work that I do. And sitting down and sketching out ideas has become an amazing tool for me.

They also made you do all of these other subjects, like print-making and painting. And you'll see in my process that actually, everything I've ever learned is a big part of my process now. Photography is really just the documentation of what I do at the very end of a very long process, of little bits of who I'm crafted to be over the years.

When I first went to art school and I was really trying to find the artist that I came to be, one day I went to the library and I found this whole section on the artist called the Pre-Raphaelites. And I really just fell in love, and I started to discover these artists who were Victorian, and they were looking back at an era before themselves. So they were looking at medieval stories that had a lot of costuming and these medieval sets, and I started to think about how I could relate in my own work to other periods.

I started by looking for costumes, and when I started doing photographs rather than paintings, I realized that the costuming itself looked really rough that I was hiring. And that's really the beginning of when I started to think, I'm going to have to start to learn how to do dress-making and put time into this. And also, I noticed that if I hide anything, any kinds of props or anything, they would just sort of appear in other people's work after I'd already produced work as I grew in popularity.

And so that sort of led to me starting to think about how I really need to craft my own image from beginning to end, from the dressmaking to the prop-making to the backgrounds, because I'm really putting my own unique stamp on every single thing. And the other thing is that you never really find exactly what you're searching for. You have this image in your mind and you're trying to work towards that point. And going and searching for other things is often-- you don't kind of get the result that you were looking for in the beginning.

I was really interested in this very new thing called Photoshop, which was early '90s, and just nobody really knew very much about it. And that led to me going into honors, master's, and all sorts of stuff. Not so much to study those things, but to have labs that I could be in. It was sort of a cheaper way for me as a creative to have an environment that I could visit and be inspired by other people and ask questions. And again, start to add new layers of technology to the way that I worked. And so that's when I started to do, digital illustration and all that sort of stuff.

So when you look at my work, it's really a combination of things that are very traditional crafts. There's lots of painting in the backdrops, there's all the hand-beading and the costuming. And then it ends up as a very, very polished pieces where there's not a strand out of place, and that's happening in post-production.

When people walk into an exhibition of mine, I came to realize that they were most interested in particular artworks when they could sort of-- they could walk into a room and they could experience the piece from a distance and it would have an impact, but they would move closer to the work and they would start to analyze little pieces of the work.

I've always been really interested in detail and I've always worked with medium-format and large-format cameras. So adding symbolism in work through costuming has been an amazing device for me to do storytelling within the work about particular characters and the themes that I'm working on, but also to draw people into the work and to make them sort of talk in pieces.

These days, I'm really particular about what commercial projects I will take on because I just have so limited time. If I had to think of a special one, it'd probably be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I received a traditional letter in my PO box, and it was inviting me to be a part of a project called The Art of Saving a Life. And now we're approaching 30 world-renowned artists to help produce artworks that would shine a light on our need for vaccines in third-world countries.

So it's something that I personally aligned with, and they basically said, we're giving each artist a theme that is something that is a medical thing like polio or some kind of a-- everyone gets their own, and you get smallpox. So the challenge was to take a theme, which is Dr. Edward Jenner when he created the first vaccination, and they wanted me to have that thing within this artwork. But I also wanted it to appear everywhere.

I was trying to think, how can I show smallpox is present in the work without showing some poor person covered in pustules and actually showing death itself? So as I was researching, I discovered that the Chinese have referred smallpox as heavenly flowers, and I thought, well, flowers is a really beautiful symbol that I can disperse throughout the work, and it allows journalists to talk about smallpox in a way that people can sort of stomach as they're reading New York Times.

It has a central figure, and she's really representing the aristocrats. And her role is to show that aristocrats can catch smallpox, and so can the young boy who's on the other side of the artwork. That disease does not care about class, and that is something that spreads throughout all levels of society. So she's a central figure and it bleeds through to the historical frame. And then the flowers and then the bottles in the background have tiny little skulls that are photographed with flowers, and they represent the life and the death within life.

So the work is-- yeah. It was very symbolic. And it allows journalists to pick up that work and it gives them something to talk about. It's bigger than the drier subject of vaccination. Don't think anybody who goes through the art school knows exactly what they want to be. You're going to art school to develop into something special.

When we're young, we're so influenced by the people around us and the things that we see, especially now with things like Instagram. But you really have to step away from that and you have to think about your inner self and be true to yourself and not care about what other people think, and just think, I'm-- it's not perfect now, but I'm going to keep working on it and I'm going to put in those 10,000 hours and I'm going to polish this and become that thing that's in my imagination.

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