Q&A with Rachel Burke: Living Like An Artist With No Apomogy
This multidisciplinary Brisbane-based artist, designer and stylist is known for her vibrant tinsel (yes, tinsel) creations such as jackets and dresses.
Q. Tell us about your earlier years and career choices that led you to your current career as a designer/artist.
A. Early on, I was solely focused on having a career in the performing arts. I was studying musical theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, when I very suddenly decided to change directions and instead try hand-making garments and wearable art pieces. This sudden switch didn’t entirely come out of nowhere; I had made costumes and artworks throughout high school and recreationally at university (but I’d never really taken it super seriously). This changed and very quickly evolved in 2011, when I began the blog i make. you wear it. This was the first space that I documented the things that I was making, and things just really took off from there. With [the help of] this blog, I made garments for friends and ran dress-making projects to raise money for charity, and this eventually encouraged me to start my own handmade clothing label.
From the opportunities that my blog and label generated, I was hired by an online store to work for them as a commercial designer. This taught me so many lessons about running a business, but it also taught me that I couldn’t find creative fulfilment with a desk job. Whilst I loved a regular paycheque, I quickly discovered that I needed to keep my personal art practice alive at home if I didn’t want to be bored to death by the 9–5 slog of producing work solely for commercial consumption. And so I did.
For seven years I worked as a womenswear designer, developing garments for Australian retailers, and by night I would focus on dreaming up my own creations without a care in the world as to their commercial viability. In 2017, I was finally able to go out on my own, to work as a freelance artist and run my own online store selling the wearable pieces I created.
Q. From where does the inspiration for your art/fashion pieces come?
A. Going back to my initial love of performance, I adore bringing characters to life and creating works that fit into a story or narrative that I have created. I also draw a lot of inspiration from my own childhood memories and the things I used to love when I was little. I love reinterpreting these nostalgic fantasies through my own adult lens and bringing these dreams into reality. I also take a lot of inspiration from the art world and apply the ethos of some of my favourite artists to my own working processes. Artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Hilma af Klint, Frida Kahlo and Pipilotti Rist are some of my favourites.
“All art is subjective, so you’re entitled to think as you wish. By that same logic, I’ll be over here believing that my work is art”
Q. How has your life as an artist changed now that you have a baby?
A. Having a baby has had a huge impact on my art practice and most significantly on the time I have to produce work. So much of my day is now taken up by the responsibilities of parenting, and so I need to prioritize the work I deem most important and to procrastinate a whole lot less. Whilst I don’t have the luxury of endless time to myself anymore, having a baby has definitely made me more driven and determined to produce work. I guess, in part, because I feel like motherhood could easily consume my whole life if I let it. Every collection or artwork I have produced since having a baby feels like a massive achievement and just reaffirms my belief in the fact that you can be a mother and still practise as an artist/ designer — it just initially takes some time to work out a good routine and schedule to enable you to do so.
Q. What are your favourite places to visit, from where you draw inspiration?
A. For me, there is nothing like a visit to Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) and the State Library [of Queensland]’s design/art section in Brisbane, Australia, for me to feel really creatively recharged. Additionally, I always love travelling to interstate or overseas galleries and documenting my favourite artworks; I really find huge amounts of inspiration from these trips. Next on the agenda is a trip to Naoshima in Japan, a small art island that I am dying to visit.
Q. What defines you as an artist?
A. I think my work is defined by a love of colour, play, freedom and personal storytelling.
Q. What words of wisdom would you want to share with our readers who want to follow you in this field of art and fashion?
A. I would encourage readers to see the value in telling their own story and sharing their own unique point of view. If you’re looking for fresh inspiration, get off the Internet, go outside and get scribbling in your notebook. I find my best designing happens when my imagination is unplugged and left alone with some pencils.
Q. What do you say to those who do not consider your work art?
A. I would say [that] all art is subjective, so you’re entitled to think as you wish. By that same logic, I’ll be over here believing that my work is art.
Q. What makes you happy on a daily basis?
A. My beautiful and supportive family (Daisy dachshund included), my cosy house, delicious food and being able to produce my work.
Q. What is one of your favourite memories as a child or an artist?
A. Some of my favourite memories of childhood definitely take place in the primary school art room. I remember always being overcome with wonder by all the art supplies and possibilities that lay at my fingertips. When I think back to these memories, I see my tiny hands filled with gems, sequins and pipe cleaners. I would often stuff the supplies into my pockets, so I could continue playing around with them when I got home.
Q. Making mistakes is part of the growing process as an individual and as an artist. What mistakes do you wish you could have avoided, or were those necessary to grow in your role today?
A. On a very basic level, I wish I had gotten a bookkeeper much earlier on, as being unsure about administrative things like tax, superannuation, GST definitely caused me so much anxiety when I first went out on my own. Now, having hired a bookkeeper, that stress has been entirely lifted from my shoulders; it was a good lesson in delegating the tasks that you really don’t enjoy, so you can focus more time on the stuff you’re good at. Otherwise, there isn’t much I wish I could have avoided in my creative journey, as I believe that failures and tough lessons along the way really made me a smarter businessperson, or helped me to grow as an artist. I really like to think of really difficult situations now as growing pains. I try to have faith that when something feels really tough, it’s because I am in the process of learning or developing, so that I can become better or stronger — much like building up a muscle.
Q. What is on your playlist?
A. Lots of Angel Olsen, Marlon Williams, First Aid Kit and a sprinkling of Dolly Parton.
Q. What is in your closet that you wish you could still wear?
A. I still have some dresses from a brand I started/ended many years ago now called The Hiding Tree, but sadly, they have all seemed to shrink a bit over time, and now the hems are so short. I actually started repurposing some this week, though, by adding some ruffles to the hems, so maybe I’ll be able to trot them out again after all.
Q. Where do you see your art taking you in the next few years?
A. I am always just trying to bring my dreams into reality and capture these little scenes, textures and memories that pop into my head. I really just hope to continue having the opportunity to share my work and innovate as much as possible.
Q. Who is a role model you look up to and why?
A. I really look up to other artists or designers who have embraced their own esthetic and wholeheartedly run with it. I really look up to other female designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Betsey Johnson and Molly Goddard.
Q. What are your three favourite things about living in Brisbane?
A. I love how Brisbane feels so much like home to me — it’s so relaxed and inviting. My three favourite spots would have to be:
– QAGOMA for art;
– Gauge for eats; and
– James Street for fab shopping and hangouts.
Q. Do you believe in luck?
A. I do. I believe in luck and fate and destiny. I’ve watched too many movies and read too many books to believe that luck can’t exist. But when it comes to making things happen, I do believe that a combination of luck + preparation + hard work leads to success. I think luck alone will only get you so far.
Q. What is the best apology you had to write for one of your clients?
A. I haven’t had to write too many personal apologies to clients; however, I have shared thousands of apologies for people via a project I run called Apomogy (which, incidentally, is all about saying sorry with a pom-pom). There are so many amazing submissions of apology through this project, but one of my favourites was one of the first: “I’m sorry I can’t find the words to tell you I miss you.”
Q. What is one thing you hope for our society and our world at large?
A. Generally, I always hope for more empathy and kindness in situations or political environments where these sentiments are lacking, particularly when it comes to human rights and caring for the world.
Interview by Michelle Zerillo-Sosa