One of the best things about Trespass and writing in general (and there are many wonderful things) is I get to chat to some very interesting people. Specifically, I get to talk to creative people. Actors, musicians, writers, artists – hearing them talk about their love for what they do, or the trials and tribulations of their individual creative processes is endlessly fascinating and in many ways, heartening. As someone who wants to write novels and is often spotted guzzling vast quantities of tea at 2am whilst tearing her hair out over a section of  a story that just isn’t working, it’s always so lovely to hear that, somewhere in the world, someone is doing the exact same thing – and that it pays off.

So, I was fortunate enough to chat to Joanne Currie this week, one of Australia’s preeminent Indigenous artists. She spoke of her love for the Maranoa River and her pride in providing for her family without relying on government handouts. And how it makes her feel to have people from all walks of life enjoy her art.

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First published in Trespass, 1/3/2010

Born in 1964 just outside of Mitchell, Queensland, Joanne Currie grew up on the banks of the Maranoa River as part of the Gunggari tribe. Her art, inspired by the peace of the Maranoa River that flowed through her childhood, has seen Currie rise to prominence as one of Australia’s preeminent Indigenous artists. She won the AGNSW Wynne Prize in 2008, was a finalist in 2009 and is a six-time finalist Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Awards at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

This month, Currie’s work will be featured in Ripples on the Water, Lines in the Sand, an exhibition taking place in celebration of International Women’s Day that includes another of Australia’s finest Aboriginal artists, Kathleen Petyarre. It’s a poignant exhibition with Petyarre, who hails from Atnangker in the Northern Territory, heading towards the close of a long and illustrious career and Currie experiencing her work being shown in a commercial gallery in Sydney for the first time.

We were incredibly fortunate to have Joanne Currie take the time to answer some questions for us. She talks about her love for the river, the evolution of her skill and what she wants people to take away from her art; a sense of calm.

What motivates you as an artist?

I enjoy painting. I feel really good that I can make a living without government handouts. I like the fact that I can help to provide for my family by creating art that others can get a lot of pleasure from in their own homes.

The Aboriginal connection to the land is a beautiful theme that runs through Indigenous art, poetry, music and literature. How does your personal connection with the land inform your art?

I grew up on the banks of the Maranoa River. I spent my childhood there. We were poor but I still have great memories of that time. No mater how hard things were there was always the river; the peaceful flowing water. I hope that comes through my art.

Do you see your artworks as pieces of social commentary?

Some of my early works addressed alcohol and drugs problems in society. These latest works do too, but in a more subtle way.

You have moved from medium to medium throughout your career – from painting to utilizing materials such fiberglass and timber. What is it about an idea that pushes you towards a certain medium?

The ideas behind my paintings have developed slowly but have remained consistent over the 20 years I have worked as a full time artist.  The river has been a central them along with the shield designs of my own people, the Gungari.  I think as an artist my craft has continued to develop slowly throughout my career.

Painting and working with fiberglass to create sculpture have become my preferred techniques. The sculpture has developed more recently as a way of reinterpreting the shield designs that I originally began painting more than a decade ago.

I read that you have seen the complications that arise from modern life opening up to people too quickly and as an issue, this has almost come to define Indigenous Australia. Is it a theme that plays into your work?

I hope that the calming effect I feel when I paint is passed on to the people that see the paintings in the gallery or on the walls of their homes. I enjoy watching people stand in front of the works and become immersed after having walking out of the complications of their modern lives and in to the gallery.

What has been the (or a) high point of your career?

I reckon that I am at the high point of my career right now! After 20 years I am happy that I am still learning, still evolving as an artist, and involving my kids children and grandkids in my art and the stories of their family and their people. Winning the Wynne prize was a terrific, unexpected bonus.

Tell us a little bit about Ripples in the Water, Lines in the Sand.

This is my first major showing in Sydney after having been known over the last 20 years as a Queensland artist. I am really excited and a little bit nervous to be showing alongside Kathleen Petyarre, who is nearly 80 years of age and such an inspiring and famous Aboriginal painter. It is a privilege, and I guess, a reward for all the hard work over the years.

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RIPPLES ON THE WATER, LINES IN THE SAND

EXHIBITION DATES & TIMES: From 9‐21 March 2010. Gallery opening hours 11am‐6pm, Tues‐Sun

VENUE: Depot Gallery – 2 Danks Street, Waterloo

MORE INFO: www.2danksstreet.com.au / www.waterhole.com.au

Images of Joanne Currie’s artwork from Fireworks Gallery