On ancestral roots and a childhood bond with the ocean and surfing…

Water in general is a huge part of who I am. As an Aboriginal person, my roots lie with the Barkindji and Malyangapa people of far western NSW, so traditionally I’m considered a river person. However, I’ve grown up in the little surf city of Newcastle, so naturally, I have a huge love for the ocean.

The ocean for me is very much associated with my Dad. While I definitely can’t claim to be a surfer, the ocean has always been a big part of my growing up. Dad would take me out on the foamie and get me on the whitewash, and when I was even smaller I’d be on his shoulders yelling out to him to go further into the water and the waves. That’s a really strong memory for me. He always laughs about how I’d have him underwater just so I could be out with the huge waves as a little one. The ocean brings really fond memories all throughout my life growing up by the sea, but it all started with Dad.

On delving into identity and ancestry through art…

I think a huge part of my work is the idea of identity and place. I’m really proud and fascinated with my roots and my family history on both sides, and I spend a lot of time exploring this through any medium I can. My Mum and Nan grew up in the desert region of NSW, literally on the riverbank in tin huts, while my dad grew up by the sea in Newcastle with his immigrant parents from Romania and Austria. The remarkable lives and stories that all of my grandparents lived are so unique. I try to honour that through the work and stories I tell through art and design.

No matter what medium I take on, it will always start with a sketch; I’d say that’s the approach that ties them all together. Often nonsensical to others, I’ll scribble and write about my goals and sketch out what I’m imagining so I don’t lose that idea when it comes to me. Sometimes these sketches make it into the final work itself – kind of like the Irukandjis art which began as an ink sketch on a small scrap of art paper.