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  • by Lindy Schneider
When it comes to ‘larger than life’ installation art, Yarra Valley resident Sioux Dollman is an artist who brings a whimsical quality to the grandest of works.

Sioux feels she was born an artist and has painted since she was a young child, but that hasn’t made the journey any easier. ‘Whenever I was asked to paint a boat or a tree I could do it but it often felt like something was missing. I much preferred to paint things that felt as if they were coming from somewhere deep within me.’

‘I was 35 before I did a painting that I truly loved with my heart and to get there I had to do immense healing work. It’s like every piece of work I do is a lifetime.’ she says.

After completing a Diploma in Graphic Art in the late 80s, Sioux began working with a multitude of media options from acrylic paint and mosaic, to sculpture and render. She designed floats for Mardi Gras, mosaiced an archway entrance for the butterfly enclosure at the Melbourne Zoo, featured in many exhibitions including one at the prestigious Jackman Gallery, St Kilda and provided set design and ‘sensory places of being’ for dance parties and events like the Melbourne Cup and other spectaculars.

‘I never knew how to do anything. I’d just say yes and then work it out. I learnt so much on the job and was always reaching deep into my creativity to come up with a way to do things.’ say Sioux. When a client wanted giant ice cubes filled with fruit, Sioux knew there was no instruction manual. She just had to go into the flow of each piece and find a way to make it happen. ‘I use that approach in my work all the time now. That way there is always something fresh and new for me to explore.’ she says. ‘I still get nervous and scared when I start a new project – even my own house – but you just have to go through that fear and trust the vision.’

Five years ago Sioux visited the town of Warburton for a weekend away. Within weeks she had re-created her life and relocated to the pretty village, leaving a relationship, family and work commitments behind in what she describes as ‘a leap of faith’ that spoke to her heart, her respect for nature and sense of wonder.

Instilled with a passionate belief that we create our own reality, Sioux quickly found her place in the community and her artistic presence was felt throughout the locale. Her initial works at Warburton’s NRCL Eco Education Environment Discovery Centre – Platypus Walk and exhibitions at the Upper Yarra Arts Centre were, for her, manifestations of her vision and reinforcement her instincts were right. Her contagious energy, lightheartedness and warmth were an open invitation for people to take a closer look, and to take her work seriously.

But it was a chance meeting with local eco architect Alvyn Williams that ‘cemented’ a new direction in her choice of media. Ferro cement render – a combination of plasterers sand, lime and cement most commonly used to render walls on, for example, straw bale houses – opened up a new way of working for Sioux. Together Alvyn and Sioux pioneered a technique for bringing natural, artistic detailed render effects to the exterior of the Technology building at the Upper Yarra Steiner School and Alvyn’s own office building. ‘We have been interested in the use of art as an integrated part of the fabric of the building – to communicate the values and aspirations of people today, to those in the future who will come into contact with these buildings.’ says Alvyn. The Upper Yarra Community Environment Park Studio and several buildings at Mansfield Steiner School now also proudly display Sioux’s craft. Alvyn says, ‘There is an immediate effect… people love Sioux’s bold and decorative shapes and colours, the cross pollination of nature and magic and the bit of sparkle.’

The essence of Sioux’s work is visionary art and magical creations. Whether she is sculpting a one metre high snail letter box or a two story high interior wall render, such as the ‘tree of life’ commission she did for Warburton home owners Linda Ho and Jerome Pelletier, Sioux’s work is ‘ original, powerful and magnificent’ says Linda. ‘Sioux is a dynamic, creative and passionate artist who pours love and joy into her work.’

‘I think it’s because I am small that I have such a fascination with the large.’ says Sioux. Inspired by the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, and the ubiquitous Spaniard Antoni Gaudi, Sioux’s work resonates a similar respect for nature and beauty, enhanced by her own magical touch. Hundertwasser once said ‘a straight line is killing mankind’ and Sioux’s art has an organic quality that flows in a natural embrace of all it encounters. The same quirky, fantasy –like detail and capacity to be playful with shape and form is as authentic for Sioux as it was for these two most influential artistic-architects.

Sioux’s greatest project to date is her own new home. Nestled in a small valley overlooking Mt Donna Buang, her studio/home is a fantastical and  detailed ode to her talent and belief in magic and joy. The canopy over each balcony has been hand cast by Sioux, rendered and decorated with whimsical mosaic effect. Each exterior wall is touched with the indelible mark of nature in motion, and inside this modest abode, even the bath has been touched by Sioux’s handiwork, hand sculptured and mosaiced  in gold and aquamarine. The house has a dreamtime quality and a character all its own that immediately delights and inspires. Larger than life cement snails crawl across the walls, with vines and gold leaf effects marking their journey. ‘Sometimes when I am lugging buckets of heavy cement up scaffolding I think why am I doing this?’ says Sioux. ‘But when I sit with my little tools and start coaxing the design out of these materials I feel like the house is talking to me. It’s magic and it is my heart speaking.’

Sioux’s philosophy on the connection between beauty, art and community is clear. ‘The essence of art is that it sustains life. Sustainability is not just about planting a vegetable garden or recycling rubbish. It is about creating beauty on the inside as well.’ Sioux says. ‘Through art and beauty we are able to create a shared sense of life, love and wellbeing. I think it is vital that we surround ourselves, and our communities, with beautiful things that sustain us and bring us joy’ – or as Sioux’s artists statement says  – ‘create heaven on earth.’ For Sioux, life depends on it.

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End note:

For more information visit  
www.siouxdollman.com

Visit Sioux at her studio/home during the Yarra Valley Open Studio event, September 17-19, 2010.
Visit  
www.yvopenstudios.net.au  for more information.

Alvyn Williams is the principle architect at Soft Loud House Architects 
 Warburton 





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