Meet Caitlin Aloisio Shearer, BFA (Visual Art) student at the University of Melbourne

Work from Caitlin Shearer's home studio. Supplied.
Work from Caitlin Shearer's home studio. Supplied.

"A creative career requires tenacity, ingenuity and strength, and the outcomes may not measure up to those that are socially sanctioned." – Caitlin Aloisio Shearer tells Mireille Stahle about wearable art, cottage gardens and opening up to big feelings in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Art) at the Victorian College of the Art.

Hello, my name is Caitlin and I’m a curly haired cancerian who is currently studying Fine Arts at the VCA. I am in the painting department, and my artistic practice revolves around portraiture, poetry and collaborative curatorial practices. I’m also obsessed with sewing, antiques, collecting, gardening and old Hollywood cinema.

Before starting my journey at the VCA I ran independent clothing label Caitlin She, as a solo endeavour, between the years of 2015 and 2019. After working in freelance illustration and studying fashion design at TAFE in my early twenties, I found myself not comfortable with the attitudes of the fashion industry, and simultaneously wanted to make non-static, wearable artworks that were accessible to all, that could be harnessed and loved in everyday life.

The idea was to treat dressing as an act of becoming a masterpiece, of oneself living as a real work of art. I wanted to see what would happen if I attempted to carve out a space for myself where my own values and passions could thrive, because I was frustrated by the status quo.

I am inspired by daily life, by the life cycles present within nature, by female experience, by the tactility of dressing up every day, by treasures found in opshops. Makers who I admire run the gamut of: Agnes Varda, Mary Oliver, Krista Tippett, Vanessa Bell, Helen garner, Virginia Woolf, Rachel Cusk, Rebecca Solnit, Strawberry Switchblade, Mirka Mora. I love to delve into emotional authenticity and autobiographical openness, anyone who seeks compassion, and cares for others and this world which we live in. I am fascinated by people who seek to create and share their own internal worlds too.

My ethos was to work sincerely, to work passionately, to gather all the things I loved most, in order to create a special world that other people could happily come and live in, if it caught their imagination too.  It was a very demanding job, as I was everything from seamstress to creative director, photographer, web designer, post office runner, social media manager etc. It taught me what my strengths were and that I was capable of doing everything I needed to (except maybe bookkeeping and accounting, haha.)

Highlights were producing an off-site runway show with friends for the VAMFF fashion festival in 2017, becoming my own boss, and meeting and collaborating with many amazing people in the process – fellow artists and designers who I now hold as treasured friends. 

I tend to recalibrate my path every couple of years, structurally speaking, but still access the same skill sets and creative language which I consider my personal dictionary, which seems to be ever-growing. This project is now on hold, due to full-time study and other forms of work, but may reappear in a similar iteration one day. Who knows?

Now that I'm at university I can appreciate my inherent strengths and work ethic, as they've been necessary to keep up with this course during a year that has been winded by COVID-19. I suppose I love to teach myself, am very determined, and am very independent. I think this feeds back into my studies, because it allows me to determine my own path within a structure of support and knowledge which is pre-existing and multi-faceted, which is the premise of what university has to offer.

After years of commodifying my creative talents and living off the fruits of that labour, I felt I needed to take a break and go back to refining skills. I wanted to ask bigger questions of myself, and was intent on accessing a new phase of what I seek to understand, and communicate through my work. I knew that VCA would allow me to investigate those things, and to collaborate and learn from others in a way that had seemed closed off whilst working on a small business.

During this course, I’ve talked to artists I admire, I’ve collaborated with peers on ongoing passion projects (such as a collaborative never ending poem with painting student and friend Jackson McLaren), I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, and I’ve shared pasta, beers, stories, heartbreaks, drawings, gardening tips, clothing, space, time, generosity with an incredible circle of humans, and I feel that we are all blossoming as a result of this immersive experience.

You learn over time to lean into your loves, and to live by your own persuasions. My challenges tend to be giving myself permission to do what truly calls me. It can be frightening to bare one's soul in such a way. I've learnt so much about myself in the last two years, and I have made such incredible friendships, that I know my life has been changed forever. That to me, is just as  important as coming out of a degree with a specialisation or job offer.

I  like to dream. When I'm not studying I take walks and spy on the flowers in the neighborhoods around Coburg. I journal, do yoga, read in the sun, discuss what we’re all making with friends on the phone. I just want a cottage in the country with a garden studio and some goats where I can be at peace and do my thing.

I draw upon my life and my experiences to provide a backbone for artmaking, so delineating the two can often be tricky. Perhaps this is out of the box, but I like to consider my life and my career quite intertwined. I also work in retail and have other responsibilities which require my attention and time and energy. They are all jobs, in a way, from the menial to the personal.  Some pursuits earn me money, many don't, but that doesn't mean they aren't as important.

The best and also the worst thing about a creative career is that it is self-determined. It can look like whatever you’d like it to. It requires tenacity, ingenuity and strength, and the outcomes may not measure up to those that are socially sanctioned. I think this is an important time in history. We are facing much uncertainty and insecurity, but I believe that artists have an important role in imagining a future that is more inclusive, more imaginative, more open.
My dream career is to keep on figuring out myself and this world through the things that I make, for as long as I'm able – I am excited to discover what that might look like. Perhaps a masters in Art Therapy. Or Teaching, curating, publishing, writing, painting, collecting, or maybe all of the above.