Meet The Artist: Allira Henderson

Meet The Artist: Allira Henderson

For painter Allira, the ocean is as much a part of her life as art.

Author: Esperance Tide
Published: May 18, 2021

Allira Henderson’s impressionistic coastal oil paintings, some of which use a sardine tin for a canvas, draw on the romance of the sea. For Allira, the ocean is as much a part of her life as art. When she’s not painting, you will find her at the beach or at home in her 110-year-old fisherman’s shack, which featured on the cover of Country Style last year. 

Describe your art for us.  

I create impressionistic coastal artworks drawing on the romance of the sea. I generally paint in oils on canvas or found tins, but I also love working with mixed media on paper. Whatever I am creating though, the sea is a constant inspiration and one that resonates continually with me.

How long have you been painting for? 

I honestly cannot remember a time without creating. I have always painted, sculpted, sewn or drawn things. As a child I had very encouraging parents who allowed me to explore my creativity wholeheartedly; no art was off limits and I was able to immerse myself completely and messily in a wide range of mediums. Childhoods like this allow art to weave itself into your being and it then becomes a daily ritual that is as necessary for wellbeing as much as a hot cup of coffee in the morning or that evening stroll along the beach.

Do you have any formal training? 

In my late teens I studied art at TAFE through Curtin here in Esperance and I went on to university but began a family before I could finish my degree. I always thought I would go back, possibly to pursue art history, but life has its own ideas and now I’m at a stage where I’m happy to follow its lead rather than walk against it.

You’re clearly inspired by your surroundings. What is it about the coast that inspires you? 

Where do I start! The ocean is as much a part of my life as art. We are lucky enough to live in this gorgeous town where the streets lead to the sea and every day is blessed with salted breezes; it provides such a beautiful freedom for inspiration. I love that it is ever changing. The sea can be so giving at times, but it has a danger and mystery that we humans can struggle to comprehend, a sad romance that I am constantly chasing and exploring in my work. 

Is the ocean a lifelong passion?

We grew up in the sea. My dad was a keen waterman, he surfed, dived, and waveskiied; anything to do with the ocean, whilst my beautiful mum encouraged us to follow. They constantly took us to the sea as children, so much so that I think it has become entwined in my very fabric. It felt totally natural later in life to marry a fisherman!

Where did the idea to use sardine tins as a canvas come from? 

I was painting seascapes in little cat food tins for fun and my grandfather saw them and offered me his sardine cans to use instead. He eats them every day so I have a steady supply. I wasn’t sure how people would respond to them at first and kept them for myself or for mates, but now I can’t keep up with them. I think they are a nice quirky way for people to own a small piece of original art, something a bit fun.

What was the motivation behind your new collection?

My new series, The Places I Walk, is a collection of seascapes from coasts close to home. They are from photos I’ve taken on walks along our beautiful beaches here in Esperance. They are a lot lighter and less stormy than my previous works. I began painting them when Christian left the fishing industry late last year. I wasn’t feeling the need to create the dramatic, dark oceans from when he was at sea, and instead I focused on the light, more iconic Esperance scenes for once.

Do you have any other projects in the works for 2021 and beyond? 

I will be launching a series of prints from my original works through my website soon. After that I am working on a collaborative exhibition with two coastal artists from Hopetoun, one is a dramatic ocean photographer and the other creates beautiful sculptures with found rope. Combined with my oil paintings it will be an engaging body of work. This will be on display in Hopetoun over the winter months with the possibility of bringing it across to Esperance later.

Your home, your shack, seems as much a piece of art as your paintings…

Our shack was built around 1910 and was originally a little miner’s cottage from Norseman.  We have owned it for about 10 years now and we have filled her with all the stories we have journeyed over this time. She is a complete extension of our personalities; very coastal and very eclectic. We try hard to keep her as original as possible, but it can be difficult living in an old shack at times and we have renovated her kitchen and given her a spruce up outside by recladding her in fibro and painting her blue. She was owned by another fisherman once and there’s a rumour that there’s 31 whale bones buried somewhere in her sprawling yard! 

Being featured on the front of Country Style was perhaps one of the most surreal moments that has ever happened to us. They contacted me through Instagram after seeing a photo of the shack that I had posted. I really did not think they were serious at first as she’s a bit rough around the edges, but they made her look stunning with their beautiful photography. I will treasure that moment forever. It made all the years of living in and working on our tiny, leaking, rundown shack worthwhile.

When you’re not painting, what can we find you doing? 

I work at the local high school in student support. It’s a fairly intense job but I love it. If I’m not at work, I’m at the beach here in Esperance or at our other, even smaller, shack over in Hopetoun, and also probably at the beach!

Lastly, tell us where we can find your work! 

I sell my smaller work through my Instagram @salted_sunrise and larger work through my website www.allirahenderson.com. I am hoping to branch out later this year and have work available locally but at the moment I have too much to juggle to be able to stock anywhere consistently. Eventually, once my girls leave home and I have more time, the dream is to eventually be painting full time, but at this stage that’s still a couple of years off.