Bolted in by a heavy door, surrounded by dirty creamed colour walls, a camera to observe in one corner, canvas mounted on walls and floors with only eight materials to use, 23-year-old Odessa Mahony-de Vries locked herself in a jail cell for eight hours.
It would be punishment for most, but it was a place to explore her artistic creativity. The rules were simple a list of four instructions that she would carry out every 15 minutes and, through that venture on a journey that had no end goal but the discovery of something unknown.
Although the experience was exhausting, as Mahony-de Vries later discovered, her performance art piece paralleled the unfolding COVID-19 crisis in mid-2020.
“The project became about the toil that kind of happens in isolation and especially with COVID, at the time everyone was being isolated and working on their puzzles keeping busy, so it lent itself well to that,” she says.
Passion with a desire for discovery, matched with undeniable talent, is a captivating combination recognised by the people in Mahony-de Vries’s life. At age nine, her parents gifted her painting lessons after seeing she had a keen interest in experimenting with materials. This interest that would eventually lead her from the Sunshine Coast to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where she gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in painting. For her, paint is her artistic love.
“I think it is the materiality of paint and the way that it can move and be manipulated. I just love the physical nature of it in relation to my body movements,” she says. “It’s a release of control and at the same time it’s comforting in a way because it becomes familiar to me, I just go off into my own little world.”
Important as the art itself is the community she surrounds herself with. People who inspire her and work with her to bring out the best she has are critical to being an artist.
“You definitely need people to understand the way that you’re working, to discuss it and help you to improve what you’re doing,” Mahony-de Vries says. “Because I’m not a photographer, I’m not a writer … you know I can’t be all those things.”
Beyond the materials used, the contemplation behind Mahony-de Vries’s art is evident, something she attributes to her life experiences. At the end of 2019, Mahony-de Vries travelled to India and Nepal, where she was bombarded with a culture shock but found boundless inspiration in a world contrasting her own.
”I found these experiences quite inspiring for my work and then it subconsciously worked its way into my artwork when I got back,” she says. “I started in India with this idea of using a lot of colour but actually came back using a lot of black, partly because I was sick there as well, I caught three different bugs, even though I had a beautiful experience.”
Although reserved in nature with a small petite frame and a short dark brown stylish bob, Mahony-de Vries exudes a calm quality and is easily approachable. Sitting, relaxed and with an expressive smile, Mahony-de Vries has a dominant and intriguing presence when she talks about the process of making her art.
“I kind of look at it as a bit of a puzzle piece and I don’t know what the outcome will be and I almost like trying to make it abstract to myself,” she says. “I would find it so boring to know exactly what I’m making.”
She is often found listening to Lana Del Ray or a podcast called Talking with Painters while she works on her art because, for Mahony-de Vries, the environment she works in has an immense influence on her creativity.
“When I was in in the middle of the city in Melbourne, my work and the mentality was more structured, with harsher lines and more contrasting colours. Whereas being back on the Sunshine Coast now after experiences travelling and residencies, it’s just a lot more free flowing with expressive marks,” she says.
What is abundantly noticeable about Mahony-de Vries is her ambition. Besides finishing her Masters of Teaching at the University of the Sunshine Coast at the end of this year, she has a project showing at the Cooroy Butter Factory from July 23-August 26. Countless other secret projects are on the radar as well.
Looking further into the future, she has hopes that her art will be shown and recognised in galleries worldwide, a goal set high, but for someone as talented, passionate and driven as Mahony-de Vries, definitely attainable.