Five minutes and five questions with…Silhouette Artist, Alison Russell
As seen at the grand opening of our flagship store in Covent Garden, silhouette artist Alison Russell certainly made an impression with her incredibly rare and skilful talent.
Alison was taught the art of silhouette portraiture by her grandmother, and she is now one of only five people in the UK practising this art professionally. We talk to her about nostalgia, art, and showing people their true beauty.
ASTLEY CLARKE: Not many people know about the art of silhouette-cutting – why are there so few of you?
ALISON: Silhouettes were widespread during the Edwardian period as they were quick and cheap to produce compared to oil paintings. They were considered the ‘snapshot’ of the time before photography was invented. When photography started becoming accessible to the public during the Victorian era, silhouettes lost their purpose and less artists trained in that art form as a result. There are just five of us practising professionally in the UK today, keeping the art form alive as a niche novelty interest. Perhaps part of its current appeal is its rarity.
ASTLEY CLARKE: Do you think your art has become more popular recently because of our obsession with all things vintage?
ALISON: Our current fondness for everything vintage has definitely helped silhouettes maintain their status as a charming keepsake, harking back to the nostalgia of Victoriana, for sure. As technology dominates our modern lives in so many ways, from how we communicate predominantly online to how we choose to spend leisure time, I think the result is that anything that is hand-made and personal becomes an increasingly rare and more precious experience.
ASTLEY CLARKE: Who was your most memorable silhouette?
ALISON: I remember a woman at a ball I was working at. I offered to cut her portrait and she said she was far too unattractive, but I really wanted her to see how untrue that was so managed to convince her to allow me to have a go not expecting much. When she saw it, tears started to flow from her eyes and she said, ‘I can see it’s me and it’s beautiful! I’ve never seen myself that way before.’ It touched me how much she was touched and it’s my goal for everyone to recognise and connect with their own beauty through having their silhouette cut by me.
ASTLEY CLARKE: Having a silhouette cut feels very personal. How do you manage to capture a person’s essence as well as their image?
ALISON: That is a good question! It comes from the artist’s intention. I do believe a person’s intention is evident through what they produce. If someone cooks you a meal in a rush with their mind on other things you are going to notice the difference compared with someone gives it the time required, and most essentially, their full attention on the task. It’s the intention that is the key element. A good silhouette artist will not give you a generic cut out but in receiving your portrait you should feel that you have been truly ‘seen’ by them.
ASTLEY CLARKE: Which AC piece would you choose to wear if you were cutting your own silhouette and why?
ALISON: It would have to be some statement earrings like the Comet Flare Diamond studs because they would look very effective as white high lights cut out of the black paper from which the portrait is cut. Also, anything bold and dangly like the Comet Diamond Drop earrings, with a few cuts to highlight their general form, the overall look would be dramatic in silhouette.
Step Into Christmas...
On 9th December, silhouette artist Alison Russell will be at Astley Clarke in Liberty London, from 4-9pm to render your profile in black and white.
PS: They look fantastic inside our photo lockets!