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In the Studio with Clementine Maconachie

In the Studio with Clementine Maconachie

Clementine Maconachie can make just about anything look effortless. The artist and former Olympian has a talent for turning the toughest of materials into artworks of great delicacy, and her beautiful metal and stone sculptures are now becoming fixtures in homes, stores and even restaurants. Under Clementine’s spell, sheets of steel are softly folded like paper origami, and solid totems appear so light that a single breath could blow them over. In her studio in Sydney’s inner-west, we caught up with Clementine to talk about the inspiration and motivation behind her work, and the incredible career change that started it all.

Clementine wears the Wool Overshirt in Oat Marle.

Clementine Maconachie describes herself as a “pretty motivated person” who isn’t afraid of hard work, which is an incredibly modest way of putting things given her formidable achievements. A former Olympic swimmer who competed at the Sydney Games, Clementine’s unwavering focus and pursuit of personal improvement has earned her success outside of the pool, as an artist. Like a modern-day Midas, everything she puts her mind to turns to gold.

Growing up on a property outside of Albury in NSW, Clementine was surrounded by art as a child - her mother was an abstract painter who filled their home with books and artworks, and family holidays always involved visits to the local galleries. At the time, however, Clementine had more athletic inclinations. “My interests were all things active,” Clementine says. “I started swimming when I was 12 and that was that. Swimming took over from there.”

Clementine wears the Single Breasted Wool Coat in Caramel.

Clementine’s decision to pursue art full-time is inextricably tied to the pandemic in 2020, which hugely impacted the design industry. “Covid made me make the decision to focus on art,” she says. “Prior to that I was making custom furniture and doing visual merchandising work, and I would make art in the gaps. But when that work fell by the wayside with Covid, it was a blessing in disguise - it gave me the chance to do what I always wanted to do, and luckily it worked out.” 

The first material Clementine began experimenting with was steel. “Since I first learned to weld I was hooked,” she tells. “I love all metals - steel, brass, aluminium, stainless steel. They all have their own wonderful attributes.” Her Sydney studio is a physical manifestation of this singular passion, with expressive sculptures and folds of steel in the bluest of blues, blush pinks and candy-wrapper gold assembled on shelves and suspended on walls. Clementine’s folded metal pieces are particularly emblematic of her style - despite the metal’s tough characteristics, these artworks appear as light as a feather. “Balance along with shape and form are very important to me and something I have always been interested in. I do like to try and bring a lightness to a heavy material,” she explains. Her studio is also home to carved tabletop-sized objects and tall totems made from wood and an aerated concrete called Hebel. “They are slower, but I enjoy that about them,” Clementine says of the new materials she’s introducing to her practice. “I think I most love the mix of materials so I can jump between each and work with what I am feeling at the time.” Indeed, Clementine feels inspired simply by being surrounded by these great masses of metal, wood and concrete. And given the physicality of her practice, you’ll always find her here dressed in head-to-toe denim, a painters coverall, or one of her favourite old work uniforms from Japan or France.

Clementine wears the Lena Cashmere Sweat with the Lena Cashmere Pant, available soon.

Talking to Clementine about her ambitions for the year ahead, she is authentically matter-of-fact. There’s an exhibition in the works, she says, “and I plan keep going with what I am doing”. Having carved out a career making art, Clementine’s aspirations are also an immense source of gratitude. “I am lucky enough for my passion to be my job,” she says. “Everything else is just a bonus.”

"Balance along with shape and form are very important to me and something I have always been interested in. I do like to try and bring a lightness to a heavy material."

Assembly Label Asks

My personal style is… Eclectic. Lots of Australian labels and vintage.

In the studio, I’m currently listening to… Podcasts and audio books, mainly biographies, and a mix of music - ’90s hip hop and electronica. 

My enduring creative inspirations are… Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse, Picasso, Margel Hinder, Ruth Asawa, Simon Geiger, Georgia O’Keeffe, and of course my mother. 

The last artwork/exhibition I admired… Oh that’s tough! I went to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island. It was almost a spiritual experience. I have loved Isamu Noguchi’s works for so long and to see so many together in such a beautiful space was wonderful. Seeing the Alexander Calder exhibition at the Whitney [Museum] in New York was also amazing. Closer to home, the Margel Hinder exhibition was special as I didn’t know much about her or her art, and it was brilliant. I was blown away.

Outside of the studio… I am a mad F1 fan, and love going to watch the Swannies. Most of my time outside of the studio is family time as I have three energetic kids.

My greatest artistic achievement so far… Being able to support myself through my art, and having my art end up in beautiful homes. It's nice when it ends up in magazines.

Happiness in 2022 is… Happiness is being healthy and my family being healthy.