LAURA CLEMENT - ARTIST
I grew up on Oatley, in Sydney's south-west. It was premium! There was a hoard of rat bags hooning about my street, billy cart constructions, barbies for days and we had large bush lands and a river near by. Plus I got to go to a tiny catholic school and learn about allegorical stories, amen.
I remember making some erotic drawings at about 5, of a lady fully starkers in the middle of a pink square of paper. She had huge assets and a full bush. There were three men peering in from either side of the page in total bewilderment. I think I was inspired by Mum and Dad's Norman Linsday prints, and various art about the house. Also probably just a kid watching Rage on Saturday morning wondering what it's all about. I was the class art star at the local catholic school, and Mum pulled me aside while I was doodling away in my play room and I was promptly advised to stop it.
The first image that made an impression: I was really into Snugglepot and Cuddlepie's Obelia story, that is an image from childhood that sticks; the gumnut babies in the ocean with pearls and fish friends!
After high school, I went straight to the National Art School. I had been completing some of my HSC marks with them so just stayed on. In hind sight, I think a gap year would have been good. I studied fine art majoring in painting. I've also studied yoga and interior architecture. I read a lot now, which is great as I couldn't read at school, being a bit dyslexic. Like many artists, I have worked mainly in hospitality.
A lot of the artists who inspire me are my friends, how they keep their practice fresh and moving. Paige Northwood is a good egg and Bridget Stehli Curnow, she is a machine! I have met a lot of old ladies out at Mutijulu community who inspire me, their dedication to culture and story-telling is so strong and beautiful. I have been working with George Aldridge on a project, his sense of humour is inspiring. I think humour and honesty in art is important.
I like to watch things, how they connect and work, that inspires me. Humor within hardship. When nature throws a heavenly colour palette at you, or when you find beauty in an ugly place, like a linear composition in a highway piss stop, that's great. I like to stay to the side of things and not get too caught up in what has been deemed okay to like for a moment, fashion is an interesting wave to observe, and bet on......but it can be the most embarrassing phenomenon.
Before moving up north, I was living in Marrickville in Sydney and had a studio close by. I loved living in the inner west. The queer scene is fun there, the drag scene is fabulous! I have amazing friends who inspire me, crack me up and throw great dinner parties. But Sydney really knows how to grind you... I think the city has lost its spunk and is bending over, submitting to the gentry who are easily shocked and just demand an homogeneous culture. I was working all the time, having no time to make art and no money. I was in a great place but really finding it hard to tread water and be at my studio undisturbed.
I've wanted to get into the red dirt for about ten years. In 2014 I had a big break up and the red dirt started to appear in a lot of my paintings. It was purity! It was out there! It was calling me! And I had no idea how to get there.
Things were not working in Sydney this year. One day I had a vision on the way home from my morning coffee, the next day I told my barista. She put me in contact with a key person in the Indigenous art scene and I started going to some Indigenous art events. Right around this time, my friends and I got evicted by our slum lord and couldn't find another home. So in the midst of the heartbreaking reality that the Sydney rental market was impenetrable (even when I adorned myself in my most un-ratbag-artist-most-fabulous-professional house inspection garb), I went on an impromptu road trip from Adelaide to Sydney through the outback... which was amazing and felt very right. And the day I drove back into NSW I got a job offer... it was the only thing opening up for me so I listened to that and here I sit in my caravan at Uluru reflecting on Tjukurpa, women's business, bush telegraph, camp-dog politics, the best slow cooked roo tail and baby snakes. I really think I got here by dreaming and listening.
First impressions: It's really big. The colours are magic. I was overwhelmed by the ridiculous contrast of the resort town and the local community. The wound is very fresh for Indigenous Australia. I have always thought politics to be a sham, but I am really disgusted now. Wipe the primary school curriculum and let's all just learn local Dreaming! I think the local stories of any area in Australia needs to be a massive part of the school system - it is the law of this land, the lessons are solid.
I work for an amazing non-profit arts organisation which is Anangu-owned and directed. I help local artists facilitate dot painting workshops and culture walks by translating. I have been learning Pitjantjatjara to do so, under the patient tutelage of said artists
Now I am painting different things, taking some inspiration from the local artists, re-thinking story-telling ideas and perspective. I have been painting on actual rubbish I find, (mostly shiny).
This week I am house sitting for my friend, who has a donger in community. I wake up at 6 to a kelpie whacking me in the face, I roll to the side of the bed and pat Willie, love personified in a large roo dog. then the three of us walk out the back of community toward the sand dunes, joined by 3 other camp dogs and become a very motley attractive mob. I throw sticks and growl at anyone who steps out of line...I am also learning how to speak camp dog. Ee get to the water tank in the dunes and admire the light as it comes up and dances delicately on all the grasses and trees, forming an embryonic glow around Uluru. Once we are full of colours or I get over throwing sticks we all amble down the dunes through the spinifex and walk down the big red road, back to the donger where I shower with Uluru right outside the window. Then Ipick up an artist from their home in community and we drive to Yulara to do a dot painting workshop. These workshops are so beautiful, the artists teach the tourists some culture, language and how to approach telling their own story in a painting. Sometimes people cry in appreciation as they learn how to tell their own stories, and we laugh a lot. Then we might stop for a cool drink and Wing Dings before driving home. It is very special for tourists to engage with the local people out here, to listen and learn. The experience is important because it develops understanding, which is pivotal for respect and ultimately, change. I feel very privileged to be learning in this way.
I'm not sure if I can see myself out here long term. The desert is very much on the map of my heart now, the sand is in my blood. I do miss my family and friends but the work is very interesting. The stories out here are rich - anyone who thinks Australia has no culture needs to get out more!
I am planning my curatorial debut for November at Ambush Gallery in Sydney, 'Barkers and Biters'. i just want to keep making art, telling stories and saying what must be said in that voice.
Favourite things to do in the area: going to Kanju Gorge at sunset, flipping through the Mutitjulu aged-care art, playing with camp dogs, driving on bumpy roads, Going out bush with the artists. Painting, admiring the morning light over spinifex grass.
Tips for people thinking of moving near Uluru: be humble or die. You need to let go of any expectation. Shut up. Watch. Listen. And drink plenty of water.