Interviewer: Miriam Sims
Asha Southcombe is an emerging artist and Honours student studying Contemporary Art at UniSA. Her work revolves around environmental themes and she uses a range of media to convey the significance of interconnected systems that hold our planet together. I was able to hear more about her captivating works featuring mushrooms which was highlighted in the Helpmann Academy 2021 Graduate Exhibition at ACE Open, earlier this year. Asha’s practice is ever expanding, and her delicate pencil strokes draw you in, you stay for the work’s intricacies in meaning and the subjects they depict.
While dealing with concepts that take up a lot of mental space for so many of us, like climate change and environmental fragility, what led you to focus on “small” subject matter?
I have always been drawn to detail and intricacies, so I think that is why I am drawn to using small natural objects as my subject. I love the intimacy it creates by having to look really closely at the object and for me at least, it makes me appropriate it more. I try to create this similar sense with my own work to bring the viewer in closer to more clearly see the fine detail that goes into each piece.
Sometimes it’s for one hour and others it’s up to ten, but I often find, once I get into the rhythm, it’s hard to stop.
I would love to know more about the process you use, it has strong meditative qualities to it; how do you prefer to work on your drawings?
It is a very meditative process for me. When I do it, I like to dedicate a large amount of time where I know I won’t be distracted and can just draw for as long as I want. Sometimes it’s for one hour and others it’s up to ten, but I often find, once I get into the rhythm, it’s hard to stop.
Art by Asha Southcombe
How is your practice impacted by the environment in which you work? Do you surround yourself with your subject matter?
I do! I like to think of anytime I am in nature as working, mostly as an excuse to get out more. I love to go hiking and foraging and find that a lot of my inspiration will come to me when I am walking. I do like to also bring nature into my studio and have a bit of an addiction to house plants which are starting to take over my studio, but similar to my drawing process I find it super relaxing to take care of them.
I find it so fascinating and there is still so much in this field that I want to learn.
What are you planning to expand upon in your Honours study at UniSA? Do you hope to expand your Mycology series or are you heading in a different direction?
I am continuing to explore the world of mycology. I find it so fascinating and there is still so much in this field that I want to learn. I think it will definitely be a main theme in my practice for a long time. I am particularly interested in the relation of fungi to other organisms so I will definitely be exploring flora and fauna also more in my work.
Art by Asha Southcombe
Your work focuses on concepts of fragility, beautifully conveyed in your drawings; what do you believe the significance of embracing softness is when it comes to heavy themes?
Thank you! For me, this is a really important part of my practice. I find that people are often extremely careful around my work because it is so subtle and delicate, which is something we need to be more aware of when we are around nature. The environment is extremely fragile and I think we often forget that, so I hope my work can remind the viewer of this and also make them take a minute to appreciate the beauty and details within it.
I think the arts community plays a huge role in activism and can continue to do so in so many different ways.
What do you wish the arts community could do to foster environmental protection and climate activism?
I think the arts community plays a huge role in activism and can continue to do so in so many different ways. If artists can communicate issues, promote awareness and call out things that need to change, then this can reach an even further audience then the media alone and often be a more engaging form. Even if a creative’s work does not revolve around environmental awareness, activism can still be present through the promotion of sustainability. This could be through the use of recyclable packaging or using more eco-friendly materials for your process and communicating why you are using these materials to your audience. Any small effort that is accessible to you and your practice can make a difference and encourage others to also do so.