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A black and white affair

Monocromatic magic. Cheeky chiaroscuro. Pure, striking contrast. Classy. Timeless. Bold.

How good can black and white be?

As many of you will know, black and white was my first love. Scraperboard set me on this path of artistic pursuit. It egged me on from week to week with its endless possibilities, with its quirky sense of humour and its penchant for texture, line, movement and freedom.

Scraperboard was a little niche that served me well as I honed my drawing skills, developed patience with myself and explored my artistic voice. For now I've left it behind, as I burrow, traverse and occasionally feel some fleeting mastery of other mediums and techniques. But the skills and confidence I learned with scraperboard, with black and white, will always feel foundational for me.

This Thursday, our joint show Tones and Hues: Black and White will open at the Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place. Seven of my scraperboard pieces will be on show amongst a whole gamut of amazing local artists and photographers who have contributed to this diverse and exciting exhibition.

There is a special thrill of THIS exhibition, in THIS space. It is about the art, but it is also about the magic of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists coming together in an Aboriginal space. It is humbling to be invited in.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to participate in a separate Aboriginal community workshop in an Aboriginal arts health organisation, Gomeroi gaaynggal (which translates as Gomeroi babies), in Tamworth where I live. A number of Aboriginal artists had travelled from Victoria and Western Australia to teach a range of textile arts including eco-dying, doll making and painting on possum skin.

As a regular participant of art classes and workshops, I have to say that there is a distinctly different feel to Aboriginal arts workshops. Tap into that sixth sense of yours and you can feel a hum, a deep sense of nurturing and belonging inside that room. Sometimes palpable, sometimes subtle, but ever-present is the collective consciousness, the unspoken common histories and stories. And when combined with art-making those deep connections add a depth and dimension beyond anything I create.

Here the paintings aren't about whimsy, experimentation or self-amusement, subjects that I might choose. Here the paintings tell layered stories about spirituality, loved ones lost, family spanning generations, connections to land and culture, deeply felt grief and joy, and above all, healing.

And here the process of art-making is more connected, one to the next. The energy of the workshop is immersive, moving, gently buzzing. Roles are shared and ever-changing. Everyone talking, telling parts of their story, strong and vulnerable, inspiring, teaching and learning.

Over ten years working in Aboriginal communities I often think how blessed I have been to make as many friends and family as I have, within a different culture than the one I was brought up in. I am grateful to have been embraced and enriched more than I can say, possibly more than I know, by this generous cultural people.

On Thursday I am looking forward to the art, to the black and white which has been so foundational for me as an artist. I'm looking forward to the art... but most of all I am looking forward to feeling at home.


Tones and Hues: Black and White opens at 6pm on Thursday 30 March at the Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place, Kentucky Street, Armidale and runs till the 22 May.

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