Illustrator Erin Renfrey is imagining a colourful future through her work

Winner of the Square Holes award at the recent 2023 Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition Opening Night, Erin Renfrey is an illustrator dreaming up a brighter future through her work.

Square Holes have partnered with the Helpmann Academy since 2016 to provide insight into the evolving needs of emerging creatives in South Australia. In 2022 Square Holes further established this important partnership by joining the organisation as an award donor, debuting the Square Holes Award at the Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition in February 2022. We have continued the patronage of this award in the new year, with emerging illustrator and Flinders University graduate Erin Renfrey taking out the award in 2023.

Working traditionally in water colour and gouache, Erin’s work imagines a utopian future in which nature is imperative to earth’s prosperity.

Square Holes recently sat down with Erin to chat about her influences, whimsical outlook and dreams for the future.

Erin Renfrey, Intergalactic Friendships of the Future, Watercolour, gouache on paper
Image: David Hume

Square Holes: What made you choose illustration as your artistic medium?

Erin: The iconic picture books of Finklehopper Frog, Corduroy and Possum Magic will always be what encouraged me to become an illustrator. The images still make me smile and the joy and optimism they bring continues to inspire my work.

SH: What is exciting about this medium? What is challenging about it?

ER: It’s exciting to see illustrators embrace the uncertain meaning of ‘illustration’ and the limbo between commercial work and fine art. However, it can be challenging to be an illustrator who works with traditional materials, as illustration companies capable of consistent jobs, traditionally work with digital software.

SH: What themes do you explore in your work?

ER: I explore a lot of different themes, including but not limited to, ecology, compassion, imagination and inner worlds.

SH: There is a whimsical, storybook like quality to your work, but the content focuses on a very difficult subject matter (environment and human progression) – why did you decide to illustrate this issue in this way?

ER: I wanted to explore how humanity’s progression affects the environment in an optimistic manner. Magical realism is perfect for this as it allows the audience to relate to current environmental issues while also allowing for fantastical elements. Optimism itself is seen as a whimsy. However, it’s a powerful tool to conceptualise and strive for a better tomorrow.

Jason Dunstone and Erin Renfrey, photo by Jack Fenby.

SH: Recently won the Square Holes award at the 2023 Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition – how will you use this prize money? How did it feel to receive this recognition of your talent?

ER: It’s incredibly exciting and validating. I feel motivated to create more and I’m now confident I have a future as an artist. I plan to use the prize money to apply for more shows, as well as securing a studio space to work from.

SH: Do you feel there is enough support for emerging artists in the state?

ER: While there are many wonderful people and organisations supporting emerging artists, funding for the visual arts in South Australia is limited and competitive. This applies to artists who are self-taught and art graduates. While the arts shouldn’t have to justify itself based on financial returns, many fail to see the personal and community value that art, of all kinds, provides.

SH: What does your dream arts career look like?

ER: My dream arts career is to work full-time as an artist with a studio catered to my needs as an illustrator. I would also like to work with artist run initiatives to provide more opportunities to creatives in Adelaide.

You can view Erin’s award-winning work at The Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition 2023 at Adelaide Contemporary Experimental (ACE) from Saturday 1 April to Saturday 6 May 2023. Details here.

Square Holes has partnered with Helpmann Academy to provide insights through market research to evolve and fine tune its output since 2006.  

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