Interview by Kiara Mucci, photos by Aaron Hughes
If you’ve ever wandered up into the foothills of the escarpment you almost can't help but notice the abundance of giant twisted liana vines curling up into the canopy. Yet where most of us see unremarkable bush scrub (or at the very best some interesting shapes), Stef Rusbourne and Gaby Ford of Mowgli Studio see the malleable raw material for their wild, free-form natural sculptures.
Based in Thirroul, Stef and Gaby create sculptural pieces using found flora and vines collected from local bushland, as well as hand-made silver jewellery and dreamy watercolours. We were recently lucky enough to have the two artists exhibit some of their works in the Black Gold Gallery for their show Sea and Ramble, where they transformed the space into a jungle for two weeks.
Kiara Mucci: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how Mowgli came about...
Gaby: Well Stef had previously worked for a concept designer in Sydney, working mostly with raw materials like vine-timber and flora. Then, when I moved to Byron last year to work for a racehorse charity, I also ended up working at weddings where I noticed a lot of them had a similar rustic or natural theme. So when Stef came up to join me, we just started experimenting with ideas we had. We started making wreaths, took a trip to see a florist and they loved it. That, and seeing how weddings were styled, showed us the reality that we could actually do this ourselves.
Since then we’ve expanded from just wreaths, and now focus on exhibitions, weddings, artworks, and even silver-smithing. It sounds a little random but once you see it all together, everything has a pretty 'woodsy' style that holds it all together. I guess Mowgli has ultimately become a platform for our creative ventures.
That sounds like a real mix of creative pursuits. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Stef: Well last year I was working with a concept designer for a few months who got me into the whole thing. He kind of gave me the insight of how a project goes through the stages of a raw idea to becoming a finished work. I loved seeing the whole creative process of designing something, to building it, to eventually installing it.
Gaby: I studied fine art for a little bit and was lucky enough to grow up around the English countryside - woods and fields a’plenty. I love flowers, herbs, going for a ramble in the forest...I guess it all stems from childhood. That tends to be what I paint too.
Tell me a little about what have been some of your favourite projects so far...
The exhibition at Black Gold was our first exhibition, so obviously it's up there. It was the first time we could bring all aspects of Mowgli together and have full control over it.
We also have a wedding coming up in June, which is pretty exciting. We are doing the flowers and styling, all going off a rustic and simple theme. It definitely helps when the bride and groom are excited about the same things as we are. It's probably one of the best feelings when you make something for someone and they buzz off it.
How does your creative process usually play out? Do you work with a set idea in mind or just see what comes up?
We don’t really have set processes. It tends to depend on what materials we are using. We don't really go into a work with the outcome in mind, it's more a case of letting the materials do the work. Also we get to spend most of our time outside, which to us is perfect.
What's ahead for Mowgli?
We're mostly looking forward to doing more exhibitions and collaborations. We've been speaking to a few restaurants in Sydney about doing some 'live' art installations. We also definitely want to do some more weddings - we love being florists and have chatted about having our own one day.