Get to know Liesel Arden: currently exhibiting "Things the desert taught me"
- When was the moment when you realised you wanted to be an artist?I spent a lot of time being cared for by an artist when I was young. I would sit in her studio and she would give me little projects to draw. It was my happy place where I could live in a type of fantasy land surrounded by colour and beauty.
I won my first art prize at 9 years old. I guess that experience was the first time I identified as creative and it helped me shape how I saw myself in the world. Where I could fit in. I've pursued creative projects ever since and then went to University to study Creative Industries because I could never choose between fine art, design and film. I think it wasn't until I'd left Uni that I realised that my end goal would be fine art.
- How did you transition to becoming a professional artist and making your dream reality?
Slowly and painfully (ha ha). No, but really nothing happens overnight. I worked in so many creative roles in film, design and marketing until I decided I was going to pursue my art professionally.
During this time, working what felt like 100 jobs, I got to know an incredible established artist when working at a cafe and agreed to come and work for him as a studio assistant. Working for him taught me how to paint with oils in the old masters style and I gained a first hand understanding of what it's like to be a professional artist. After a couple of years working as an assistant I decided my first body of work would be a fundraising exhibition as a friend of mine had died of Motor Neurone Disease. I painted 30 portraits in 30 days of inspiring Australian people (like Wolf-mother and Mick Fanning). It was an incredibly terrifying and rewarding experience. It was gruelling trying to pull together all the painting, filming and fundraising in such a short time and I learnt a lot about what NOT to do. But it was a great achievement of combined forces with help from so many people who wanted to be involved. Things were going great for my career at this point.
And then... I fell pregnant and everything slowed down for a few very foggy years.
Motherhood is such a hard lesson in surrender and I struggled coming to terms with trying to juggle ALL THE THINGS. But parenting has taught me patience and I'm a much better person (and artist) now than I was before I had kids.
Taking the leap from (Mother) to (Mother + Professional Artist) is a BIG step. In fact it's more like an upwards spiral; lots of going around in circles but always moving forward. I think for me I just kept putting it off until not doing it was driving me insane. Then it's just a matter of making a goal (even though it may seem impossible) and getting some skin in the game so you can't pull out of it. I can't believe how quickly I reached my first big goal when I got over myself enough to just do it. You just have to keep showing up and taking action even if it's uncomfortable and it's not perfect. I think seeing what is possible and finding people who are doing what you want to do is key. Now that I know what's possible my goals are changing and I'm expanding into things that scare me even more (like writing a book) but nothing is ever as scary as that first step of committing to art as "the actual thing I do for work." That shit is scary. But amazing.
- Where do you find inspiration?
My paintings are always inspired by experiences of wonder in the natural world. You know that feeling when you really sink into a space. You start to really see the details, feel the nuances of how it all connects together. That's what my paintings always come back to.
My writing and poetry is the same, it grapples with the human experience reflected by the natural world. The environment as teacher and us just trying to belong somewhere.
- Could you tell us how " The things the desert taught me" was born?
In 2021 my family and I travelled into the desert and spent lots of time in The Kimberley region of WA. It was an incredibly transformative experience. I had some crazy spiritual and personal growth happen in a short space of time. Big experiences in places like that will do it to you. I learnt a lot about why I am the way I am and felt like could finally belong here. The paintings and poems were born from this time and are little tales of reverie and coming home to the land.
- What have been your greatest challenges with finding your place as an artist in society?
To be honest, the greatest challenge is more internal in my experience. I feel like society and the people around me were always supportive of my art. I just had to get through my own limitations to have courage to create and share what I feel. However, when you're a mother it can be very challenging to access the time and money it takes to get you going. The traditional art world is really set up for those with time, income and connection. I'm grateful that there are more conversations happening now of how we can better support women to have more success in these areas that are historically dominated by men (like fine art).
What wouldn't you do without?
It sounds corny but - my family. Even though my career had to be put on hold for a while, experiencing life with my kids is really the greatest joy.
- Favourite time of the day to create?
11 am = my golden hour
- Does Art help you in other areas of your life?
Absolutely. Writing in particular has really helped me find greater wellbeing. I've even created my own little method of writing and painting for wellbeing which I've decided to start sharing through classes in hope others will find it helpful. It's changed my life. Also I think seeing works of art and music in the flesh is really good for the soul.
- Being a Mother, wife and an independent Artist, how do you find balance?
The infamous balance!
I used to think balance was a situation when everything was equal, but that is absolutely not the case. When you think about finding balance on something tricky, usually there's an up and down where one side is slightly more up and the other down and then they change. Sometimes one side will almost hit the ground but will come back up. I think that is the real balance. Not everything is completely equal all the time. You just want to make sure your priorities are in order but then it's just a matter of keeping both sides in the air and trying to keep a sense of humour.
My favourite quote from someone who I've forgotten; "The greatest gift you can give your children is your own joy." Self care is so important when trying to juggle a lot of things and a lot of conflicting demands on your energy. I used to completely run myself into the ground trying to put everyone else first and then everyone would suffer when I lost my shit. Now I focus more on sustainability and make sure I'm doing things that give me energy like alone time and getting enough sleep. I use a mediation app a friend of mine made called "Heavily Meditated" at 2:30pm before the kids come home to refresh some energy after working all day. It's incredibly effective and there's a bunch of different styles depending on what you need that day. Absolute GAME CHANGER.
- You were nominated for The Kimberley Art Prize award and you won! (Of course you did) . Would you say that was one of the best moments of your career as an Artist?
It was awesome but you really can't make it mean anything. Rejection is the more normal experience for all artists when it comes to art awards. I've already been rejected by four awards this year and it's only March (lol) but you never know what's around the corner. It's good to just put your work out there and see where it sticks in the wider art community. I think the real way to measure your success are the emails people write to you when your work has inspired them. That's pretty special.
- Do you hope to do more solo exhibitions in the future?
Yes. At the moment I'm experimenting with a new way of painting which is much more intuitive. I'm working on a show that incorporates some performance art with music that I've written so yeah maybe in 2050 that will be ready ;)
Bit of Liesel:
A quote you live by: Curiosity is key. Never stop seeking wonder in every direction.
Place in the world: Gladstone, NSW
Currently listen to: SZA & Chris Stapleton
Snack and drink of the day: Decaf coffee ('caus I'm sensitive) and spicy garlic dip and cucumber ('caus I'm also a badass).