Estelle Woolley

Posters for this year’s Tŷ Pawb Open feature artwork by Estelle Woolley, who has three pieces in the exhibition. We caught up with Estelle and asked her a few questions…

  • Where are you from?

I grew up on a dairy farm in a little village called Acton in Cheshire, which is where I have been staying for most of this year during lockdown. I have lived in Chester for the last ten years where I studied for my Degree and Masters in Fine Art.

  • How long have you been a practicing artist for?

On and off for around 10 years since I finished my Fine Art degree, amongst other non art related work. Before lockdown I was working part time as a Greengrocer, a Sensory Panel Member, a Florist, and providing Art and Music workshops in the local community. Being locked down this year has meant that I could re-focus on my artistic practice.

In previous years I have been supported by Cheshire West and Chester Council to create site specific installations at King Charles Tower Gardens, Chester Castle and at the Now:Northwich Festival. These were sculptural and quite different to what I have been working on this year, but my overriding interest in collecting interesting objects and transforming them seems to have carried through.

  • How has Lockdown effected the way you work?

The pandemic has influenced the subject matter, the making process and the exhibition process of my recent body of work, ‘Pandemic Nature Masks’. These are a series of photographs originally conceived for a commission with Chester Virtual Bandstand, where the call out was to create work inspired by Covid. I remember at the time (the first week of lockdown back in March), masks weren’t even really a thing yet, and they weren’t made compulsory in shops until quite a few months after I started making the images.

With limited access to my studio during lockdown, I was restricted with my use of materials and decided to use what I could find around me during my daily walks. I adapted to the situation and have found myself exhibiting and promoting myself through several online platforms.

  • Where do you find the most pleasure in your practice?

My recent body of work involves foraging and coming across materials to potentially use to create my mask portraits. I find the most pleasure in discovering new plants and objects to potentially use for my masks. The act of closely looking at the natural world as the seasons change gives me a great sense of fulfilment. If I don’t know what something is that I come across on my travels I scan it on an app called ‘Picture This’ and learn the name of the plant and its uses. I’m very interested in learning what different plants can do for the body, or the associations we have with them. For example discovering wild chamomile this year not only saw me making a mask from the flowers but drinking it as a tea in the evenings to promote relaxation. Another highlight was the discovery of oak galls and robin’s pincushions, different growths on trees caused by parasitic wasps. I’d never noticed any of these things before. Transforming these materials into art and into photographs captures them in a moment of time, as they are ephemeral. 

I also take great pleasure in sharing the work to online audiences and receiving such positive feedback, especially when I am directly approached and invited to exhibit in an exhibition or magazine. Exhibiting online is a new concept for me, whereas before this year I had only physically shown work in the traditional way. One of my highlights was being contacted by the New York Magazine asking to feature one of my images in their article on masks. A Danish newspaper, Politiken, contacted me on the back of that wanting to feature the images in their newspaper. My work also made the front cover of the Sustainability First Art Prize publication and of course I was delighted for it to be chosen as the cover image for the Tŷ Pawb Open. 

  • What impression do you want your work to make on audiences?

I would like to highlight the beauty in nature and for audiences to make the relationship between nature, health and wellbeing. We need plants in order to live; they produce oxygen so that we can breathe through them. I would also like the work to come across as something uplifting in the challenging year that we have had.

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