When I was about seven years old there was a little old white lady called Mary who lived in my neighbourhood of Yorkeys Knob in Gimuy/Cairns. She was the first person to ask me to draw pictures for her, one day when I went to Sunday Mass. I drew a scene from the Bible with some coloured pencils and a drawing book that she gave me.
I never in my life thought about being an artist. It was only when I got into high school that I began drawing pictures for friends and family, and after I finished I decided to go to TAFE and do the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts course. After TAFE I became a tutor, then a teacher. Over the years I still did not think about becoming an artist, until I received a six-month scholarship to Australian National University in Canberra. I majored in ceramics and 12 years later I completed a BA with honours and a Master of Philosophy in Visual Arts. It was only when I finished my studies that I became an artist. I was lucky at the time that Vivien Anderson Gallery – the commercial gallery in St Kilda, Victoria – was interested in my works. I have been represented by them for many years now.
My creative process involves researching ideas then doing drawings. Sometimes I make prototypes; sometimes I just make the form and solve problems as I go. That’s the making side of my creative process, but my finishing creative process is placing the art works in the kiln, firing between 1100 and 1200 degrees Celsius to create a colour tone just by this process. I wait until the works are fired and then add other materials like feathers and woven raffia afterwards.
Where is my studio? Well, my studio is me; I have been travelling so much that I haven’t set up a studio in Gimuy/Cairns, where I currently live. All the studios I have used over the years have been through artist residency programs in Australia and overseas. I had been using Trinity Bay State High School studio space as an artist in residence, which had everything a potter would dream of, until COVID-19 restrictions. Now I use my bedroom.
Every studio space I have used and the experience of working in them has been so different. For example, Canberra Potters’ studio, the Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, and First Nations potter Debra Martin’s studio at Pamunkey reservation in King William, Virginia, are all basic – just a room with a sink, workbench, shelves, a throw wheel and chairs. I have seen a lot of studio spaces during my travels but, like I said, my studio is me – wherever I go, my studio is with me.
My family, my Torres Strait Islander heritage and my culture are my inspiration and are integral to my art. Art and my practice is important to me because it gives me a sense of belonging in my family, my heritage and my culture.
— In conversation with Tina Baum, Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art
This article is from the Autumn 2021 issue of Artonview, the National Gallery’s magazine for Members. Become a Member today.