9 Jun 2024

Australian sculptor reclaiming the female form

From Culture 101, 12:45 pm on 9 June 2024


Olive Gill-Hille

Olive Gill-Hille Photo: Olivia Senior

An Australian sculptor is reclaiming the female form through her woodwork. 

Based in Perth in Western Australia, Olive Gill-Hille studied sculpture and spatial practice in Melbourne, then in an associate degree learnt how to use woodworking tools and equipment. It was there she fell in love.

Describing it as exciting, fun and free she says “it felt like a natural way to articulate the shapes I was interested in.”

Using only ethically sourced timbers and native Australian hardwoods, Gill-Hille finds what she describes as “goldilocks” or “roadkill timber”.

“I try to use timber that’s in the medium - not so green it’ll crack but not so decayed it’s become habitat.”

Olive Gill-Hille

Olive Gill-Hille Photo: Supplied

Although an admirer of work by male classic sculptors like Henry Moore, Gill-Hille noticed there weren’t many women carving their own shapes or at least, weren’t celebrated in the same way. She wants to make her mark on history - both as an artist and young woman working in sculpture. 

“They’re shapes and forms I’m most familiar with because they’re my own - expressing that in a way that’s not just voyeuristic. It’s almost a form of self-portraiture - my own shapes and experiences.”

Olive Gill-Hille

Olive Gill-Hille Photo: Supplied

There’s an interesting juxtaposition to the sculptor’s work; reclaiming the female form but doing so through woodworking, a traditionally masculine role or pastime. While she sculpts and sands the elegant pieces, taking a chainsaw to the oak, it’s physically demanding work. 

“A lot of my own physical body goes into making this work. Blood sweat and tears in each piece,” she tells Culture 101’s Perlina Lau. 

Gill-Hille says there’s a great network of female woodworkers in Australia and it’s slowly becoming more prevalent. 

Olive Gill-Hille

Olive Gill-Hille Photo: Emma Pegrum Photography

Working alongside and sharing studio space, there’s been some bewilderment from male woodworkers when it comes to putting a feminine touch on what is a male-dominated industry. 

The practice traditionally involves clear and regimented processes which dictate how you work with wood. Gill-Hille brings a different perspective - more intuition. 

“I don’t think I even own a level, which I know a few of the male workers are a little bit shocked at the lack of measurements used,” she laughs. 

“But it’s both admiration and a bit of puzzlement.”

It can be high-energy some days with the use of chainsaws and chisels, while other days are more focused with hundreds of hours of sanding. Something the artist dreaded at first, but now has come to appreciate her skill.

Olive Gill-Hille

Olive Gill-Hille Photo: Supplied

Being completely covered in dust can also mean it's difficult getting a ride home at the end of the day. 

“There were many times people would say - you are not getting in my car.”

But six months ago, she took matters into her own hands. 

“I finally got my driver's licence but the inside of my car doesn’t look too good - quite frankly!”