We are delighted to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Anangu artist Elizabeth Close on a new design – Skipping Stones. Elizabeth creates contemporary & traditional Australian Aboriginal Art inspired by her surroundings and heritage. Elizabeth’s strong connections with the babywearing community has made this process and the final result even more touching for us. Read Zoe’s interview with Elizabeth below to hear more about how she became an artist, her influences and what inspired this particular pattern.
Firstly we’d like to say how delighted we are to have this opportunity to work with you after being such a fan of your artwork! Can you tell us a bit about how you became an artist?
Hi Zoe! It’s exciting for me too! Thanks so much for approaching me! I’m not wearing as much as I used to now that my smallest is an independent being that wants to walk and run, so it’s lovely to still be involved in the community I love so much. I do however have my third baby on the way, so I look forward to wearing my babies for years to come.
In some ways, I’ve always been an artist. As I moved into high school, I didn’t enjoy art classes because I found it so constricting. They wanted me to learn about light and shade and study the work of other artists – and all I wanted to do was paint my own things in my own style! So I gave it up at year 10. I’ve always kind of dabbled in my own projects, and I continued to dabble as I became an adult, doing some works on canvas.
“My grandmother, my single most important link to my culture, used to teach me to paint and draw – she was very creative.”
When my grandmother passed away, I was so grief stricken, and the best way I found to cope and to express that grief was through art. I painted some pieces to help me cope, and then someone sent me an email about an Aboriginal Art exhibition called ‘Our Mob’ – quite a celebrated show. I applied and they accepted my work and I sold my artwork! I was now a professional artist. I continued to paint and sell the occasional piece of work here and there, but mostly I gave my art away because I had no room to keep it all!
Then the local Aboriginal Cultural Centre who display work from all locally living artists rang me to ask me to send work to them to sell, so I sent quite a few works there. I started a Facebook page for my art and I got a few inquiries about commission pieces; and so I started to do some commission work here and there and sell my work at the Cultural Centre. I had a few works in exhibitions and so forth. The number of works I was selling was slowly increasing and the number of likes on my page was going up and up.
I then had my second baby and became active in the local baby wearing group.
“I started to paint some work that was inspired by my journey into motherhood.”
My numbers started to soar because so many women from the baby wearing community felt my work really resonated with them, and my commission list grew and grew!
From there I’ve been involved in so many exciting projects.
“When we moved home to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands, being home on country was so incredible that my work just went to another level.”
I’ve been incredibly lucky to be involved in some key projects that have really lifted my profile – so much of my success has been about time, place and dumb luck!!
What are your favourite pieces you have created?
I have a few special pieces that hold significance for me – obviously the first piece I painted and sold – the piece that was in the Our Mob exhibition. It was because of that piece that I became a professional artist. The original motherhood babywearing piece that I painted holds a special place because it was inspired by my journey into motherhood, and so many women in the baby wearing community felt that it resonated with them.
“I have a couple of styles that I’ve used extensively – my bush medicine style brushwork and my dotwork, both of these I’ve painted a lot – so much so that I don’t even remember the original piece!”
These styles are key for me as an artist, but like with many things, art evolves and no doubt I’ll develop new styles in the future!
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw my inspiration from country. My language groups are the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in Central Australia – it’s red dirt desert country, and it’s breathtaking. So my art is heavily influenced by the rich, warm palette of the Central Australian desert.
“Much of my art is an expression of our Tjukurpa – our dreaming and creation stories. And much of that is connected to the landscape.”
Are there specific artists you feel have influenced your work? In what ways?
Some of the artists I feel have influenced my work would include Hector Burton, Barbara Moore, Wawiriya Burton, Nyurpaya Kaika, Mary Pan, Yaritji Young; all of whom have helped me develop as an artist. The list is long!!
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the most incredible Anangu artists of our time, in the time that I spent at Tjala Arts.”
I’ve also been influenced by Adelaide based artists, both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous. Some of the street artists I’ve worked with have really helped me nail down some different mediums.
Can you tell us about the story behind ‘Skipping Stones’?
Skipping stones reflects the rocky river beds that snake throughout the APY lands, often in drought. River systems are integral to survival out in the desert, and when they flood, it is time of great celebration. The tjiitjii (children) swim and play in the creeks, skipping stones across the surface of the cool, clear water.
“The tjiitjii (children) swim and play in the creeks, skipping stones across the surface of the cool, clear water.”
Rock holds great significance to Anangu. It is timeless, millions of years old, enmeshed in the creation of the land. Anangu have been on the APY lands for 80,000 years, and the landscape is the only thing that predates us, back into the dreaming and the time of creation.
“When you hold that rock in your hand, ready to skip it across the water, you hold our landscape in your hand, our very reason for being as the custodians of the land.”
Have you had any particular challenges in developing your career as an artist?
I think all artists have challenges at one time or another; times when the creativity just doesn’t flow.
“I’ve certainly had times when I’ve struggled – living away from country from time to time can make it hard to connect with it – country being the very essence of my creative being.”
But sometimes the concept of being away from country can be inspiration in itself. Or painting my homeland can help ease the difficulty of being away from it. In terms of my development – I really feel like I’ve been at the right place at the right time for so many of the amazing opportunities I’ve had to grow as an artist. Growing your profile and investing in yourself as an artist is hard when you have to be mum, nurse (I’m a Registered Nurse in my real grown-up job!) chef, taxi and everything else that motherhood and adulthood brings – I’ve really had to try and make meaningful time for myself to paint and engage with my audience
I can see a lot of changes and developments in your work, what has changed for you over time in regards to your technique and influences?
When I look back at my work from a decade ago – it’s amazing that it’s even the same artist. The more you paint and the more you engage with other artists, the more you evolve as an artist; even at a subconscious level. Confidence to try new things is another thing that really comes with more experience, and brings about change. Some things you try and think “this is madness!! Why did I do this?!” And then other times it pays off and then it becomes something new that you can incorporate into your repertoire. I never used to do a lot of dot work because I just don’t have the patience that my grandmother had.
But then I developed a new technique that makes painting with dots something I can do and enjoy!
“Engaging with other artists is, in my opinion, the single most important thing that you can do to evolve as an artist.”
Do you have any other exciting projects coming up?
I have some amazingly exciting projects coming up! Some incredible street art projects that I just cannot wait to get into!
“Street art gives me a whole new medium to experiment with, and there’s a special kind of satisfaction that comes with creating artwork on a massive scale!”
Plus I’ve got my first solo exhibition coming up for the SALA festival – the South Australian Living Artists festival – coming up in August this year, which I’m really excited about, and I’m currently creating a body of work that will feature in my exhibition. Watch this space!
Skipping Stones will be previewed on Facebook soon and you can you can follow Elizabeth on her page here.