Wendy Dixon: Adelaidean artist in love with critters
"You’ve probably noticed, a lot of my work is not based in reality,” says Wendy Dixon Whiley a visual artist whose unique art is gaining her numerous admirers across Adelaide. No one can accuse Wendy of drawing inspiration from realism. Instead, her art – a reflection of her obsession with critters and octopuses – dwells in the realm of the absurd, and is quickly becoming a favourite among Adelaide’s art lovers. Her work is an indication of a mind that is unfettered from conventions and fear. Wendy's octopus themed unique art has found itself on numerous well-known city facades including Rundle Street, Hahndorf Academy, and the ambitious Littlehampton tunnel project.
“I have been drawing for as long as I remember,” says Wendy as she settles down to talk about her work. “Art was always a refuge for me. As a kid growing up in a town where playing football or netball was the only thing that people did, the young artist in me was a bit of a ‘weird outsider’. And, I am glad for a childhood like that, as being a little bit ‘weird’ helps with the ideas,” says Wendy who was born and raised in regional South Australia.
Wendy’s ability to initiate projects without planning structured results enables her to create art that is unique and fun. “I usually start by just scribbling ideas down with no real intention of the outcome and refine the ideas that show the most potential. Depending on the work, I use a style that I consider reflects a ‘stream of consciousness’ – such as with the Littlehampton tunnel. I don’t think about the work as I’m making it, I just let the linework flow. I find the more I overthink about my work, the worse it looks,” she explains.
The Littlehampton project, one of the most ambitious community art project undertaken in South Australia, is Wendy’s pride project. The tunnel was 75 metres in length, making up a canvas approximately of 600 square metres in size. The project was funded by the Arts South Australia 'Arts Pitch' Program.
Wendy’s love for critters, and octopuses is legendary. She loves their elegance and intelligence, and her art often reflects this obsession.
“I think they’re great!” exclaims Wendy. “They’re highly intelligent and display advanced problem-solving skills. I used to be into scuba diving - for which I don’t find the time anymore- and I would see them looking all majestic and elegant in the water. There’s something alien and other-worldly to them that is hard to define. And, that is why I think they make for such good subjects for my art,” she explains
Wendy’s octopus and critters themed artwork has been gracing numerous well known Adelaidean facades for the last couple of years including Rundle Street and the external tower of Hahndorf Academy. “Also, I exhibited a series of skateboards a couple of years back and still do the odd custom job here and there. I work on whatever surface is available; board, paper, canvas, butchers paper. It depends on numerous factors; the customers’ demands and my inspirations,” says Wendy.
Given the quirky nature of Wendy’s work, it is no surprise that she is a lover of Keith Haring’s art. “We do have a similar technique, Keith and I, in some ways even if the subject matter is different. Reg Mombassa and Jean-Paul Dubuffet are also excellent.”
Embracing challenges and criticism
For numerous artists, finding an audience for art that defines norms is often difficult. Wendy has had her share of naysayers, but she doesn’t let their criticism bog her down. “I don’t worry about how people view my work. If they like it or (even better) want to buy the work or commission a piece, then I’m happy. Some might consider some of my work to be ‘lowbrow’, but I happen to like that genre. There’s plenty of examples of ‘serious’ (and ‘serious art’ is subjective anyway) artists with a cartoon-like style - Haring, Sigmar Polke to name a couple,” she says.
She adds, “There’s always going to be people who hate your work. I used to be a lot more sensitive to criticism, but it’s important to remember that not every art will appeal to everyone. I once overheard some ladies criticising my work at a gallery. Incidentally, the work they criticised had been sold to someone who loved it! It doesn’t bother me anymore. It is important to remember there will always be admirers for your work.”
Criticisms aside, Wendy also had to overcome her insecurities while making a name for herself as an artist. “One of the biggest challenges I faced was to stop comparing myself to other artists who I consider more skilled. There’s always going to be thousands of artists doing something different or better, and you can drive yourself crazy by comparing your work to theirs," says Wendy.
“But, there comes the point where you have to stop worrying about what other people think and create art that makes you happy, and know that there is an audience for it,” she adds.
Being an artist in Adelaide
Wendy adds that Adelaide is a great place for up and coming artists. “There are a lot of hard-working individuals creating opportunities for up and coming artists, they do an amazing job often with little to no funding, and I have been fortunate enough to work with a few of these people. It is also useful to have organisations such as Guildhouse providing support and services,” she points out.
Drawing from the lessons she learnt while overcoming her insecurities, Wendy advises aspiring artists to steer clear of being a people pleaser when it comes to creating art. “Make art that is uniquely your own rather than aspiring to be like someone else. And, above all, network! That’s the best advice I can offer. As an introvert, I struggle with networking. But I have to force myself to do it after all opportunities don’t fall into your lap. You have to put time into building your network,” says the dog lover.
Plans for the future
Wendy, who is currently working out of her studio space at the Hahndorf Academy, is about to start having ‘open studio’ days on Sunday afternoons. “People can call through and see my work process, buy work and have a chat. I do have a few shows planned for the upcoming year; the details are all on my website,” she adds.
“I have a few solo shows coming up, including a big one at the Hahndorf Academy for the 2019 Fringe Festival. I am also planning on undertaking an overseas residency at the end of 2019. But these are early days, and nothing’s concrete yet. Till then I want to continue making interesting art,” says the artist.
Follow Wendy on Instagram.
For more details, log onto her website.