Alex Standen’s story highlights the value of awards and grants in the Australian arts. A year after the ceramicist completed her studies in 2011 at The National Art School in Sydney she won the Sidney Myer Fund through the Shepparton Regional Art Museum. “The promotion though the museum alone was astounding and gave me the confidence to make larger and more exciting projects,” she says. As part of the award Alex held a solo show at the museum and was given the opportunity to talk about her work at a forum and teach a master class. “Ever since this award I have kept the momentum up and have felt like I am on the right path,” she says.

Almost from the start, she was given representation by the gallery MCLEMOI, and has exhibited at Sabbia Gallery in Sydney. In 2013 Alex was awarded the Australia Council Art Start Grant, and she has held residencies in Israel, England and Paris too. Over the past three years Alex has maintained a ceramic studio at Sturt Craft Centre in Mittagong, NSW where she taught classes and worked as a technician. During this time she has made regular trips to a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territories to help artists produce large ceramic vessels. Alex has also assisted artists such as Ben Quilty, developing a range of ceramic jugs using plaster moulds and slip cast forms to create editions of his art works. Some of her own wares are sold through Small Spaces in Redfern.

Which five words best describes you? Wide eyed, driven, thoughtful, patiently impatient, searching.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? A conversation with an amazing teacher - now a good friend - from the ceramics department at The National Art School led me into the endless possibilities associated with clay. In 2008 I started art school thinking I would become a painter but instead became intrigued with pure white porcelain and the responsive nature of clay. After four years of studying I was lucky enough to be picked up by a gallery in Sydney and was able to start making a career from my art practice straight away. I entered awards and art prizes that gave me the opportunity to show my work in different galleries and museums around Australia. From this starting point my work has matured and I continue to push myself out of my comfort zone to keep everything interesting and inspiring. I have been very lucky in many ways that I can make art my full-time job.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Always keep making, working, creating and you will find what you are looking for even if it seems a bit hopeless or you are unsure of the direction the work is going in. Don't get impatient and open your kiln too early, that lesson I have had to remind myself of a few times over the years. I have to tell myself to slow down sometimes and just take everything in, appreciate those around me and be kind.  

What’s your proudest career achievement? I want to say I am still waiting for that single moment of pride, that big award or prize that tells me ‘‘I have made it’’ but with a lot of thought I actually feel very proud of all the work I make. The little discoveries or technical breakthroughs in my ceramic practice are what keep me going. I feel very proud and humbled when I put my work into an exhibition and receive amazing feedback from people who know and love me as well as people who have never met me.  

What’s been your best decision? To develop a career in the arts after art school. Like so many art students I came out into the big wide world thinking “now what?”. I felt like I was taking my first steps and it was not without support that I launched into a studio-based art practice and made this my life. The decision to travel this year and undertake residences overseas was a huge step for me because it meant giving up my beautiful, secure studio in the Southern Highlands, which I have been in since graduating in 2011. I lived in Tel Aviv, London, Hanover and Paris and I met the most incredible, like-minded and passionate artists as well as pushed my abilities as a ceramicist.    

Who inspires you? Friends and family inspire me more than they know. I have a lot of friends who are also young artists facing the same challenges and developing a practice in different creative fields. All are passionate, generous, thoughtful and kind and they inspire me daily. 

What are you passionate about? Travel and art, the two work so well together and I have learnt so much in my short career as an artist because I have traveled. As a young Australian artist I have travelled to remote Aboriginal communities which has been life-changing and deeply affecting.  
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? This is a tricky one because you never want to shatter the untainted perception of someone you admire but I guess I would love to meet Sally Gabori. I simply love her work and to know the woman behind those paintings would be a beautiful thing.  

What dream do you still want to fulfil? There are always those things you want, a bigger studio, international representation, huge exhibitions with lots of sales but I am happy right now. I have just come back to Sydney from travelling all year, I moved into a lovely house with friends and a great studio with so much natural light. I know that I will always move forward and achieve those big goals throughout my career because I enjoy what I do and I have such a great support system.  

What are you reading? The last of the nomads by W J Peasley. Every Australian should read this book. 

images courtesy of alex standen