Can you talk a little about where you grew up and when did art start to become a priority in your life?

I grew up in Darwin. I was born in Adelaide but moved to Darwin with my Mum and my stepdad. That was definitely the beginning of my cultural journey. My father’s family lived in Darwin, even though he wasn’t there we spent a lot of time with his family. We often lived out bush and helped out in their community shops.

From the get-go our house always had Aboriginal art on the walls. Mum spent some of her younger years out at Ngukurr and Katherine. She tells stories about the artists she’s met. Sitting and talking with her is just like a book in itself. It was common back then to trade a canvas for a lift. Mum has always treasured those paintings and put them on the walls. There was always a source of connection back to those memories for her as well. She loved being included in the community. I think when Mum and Dad separated it’s one thing she missed was that connection to the bush. I think she’s a bush girl at heart.

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Art’s always been in our lives. I didn’t even realise that Dad was painting or was artistic at all. That changed when I went down to Adelaide for a basketball trip. He had our whole team come over to this studio. It was mind boggling for me, let alone everybody else.

What I saw was a transition of his work. He used to do a traditional kind of iconography which was family story telling artwork. I doubt if anyone’s ever actually seen that work which included a lot of carvings. Then he moved to more of a full time career. He was engaging people and bringing them into the cultural story through his elements series. It was striking art.

I’d definitely never seen art like that when I was young. I’d only been exposed to traditional ochres. These were mostly drawings because we were close to Arnhem Land and a lot of x-ray style images. His new work was something I’d never seen. Even then I walked away from that day knowing that now that’s what he did. I still didn’t understand that art was ever going to be a path for me.

Then when I finished school I moved to Adelaide to go to university and started to play netball for the State side. I moved in with my sister and my Dad. My sister was already working with him, learning his techniques and promoting the culture. I was just around and that’s when it kind of captured my life. I didn’t think, and he would never have thought, that I was going to be an artist.

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He had a way of drawing people in. It might be me or somebody he met or somebody that he’d known when he was younger. He used the art as a way to bridge barriers, to bring people in, to connect with people just to talk. I think that he was almost a professional talker as well as an artist.

That was really when art captured me. After Dad’ s passing, I think that’s when art became even more important in our lives. Tarisse and I were both painting by then. I already had artworks out in public galleries thanks to my manager Keith. Dad told Keith to make sure he promoted my artwork and he has.

View: Sarrita King Paintings