Petrina Bedford is a third generation contemporary indigenous artist. Her grandfathers were the famous painters Jack Dale Mengenen on her mother’s side and Paddy Bedford on her father’s side. Her mother is the Ngarinyin artist Edna Dale. Encouraged by Jack Dale, Petrina painted from a very young age. In this interview she talks about this relationship with her Grandpa, growing up in Imintji and her life as an artist.
How did you come to be an artist?
The reason I've become an artist is because of my Grandpa, Jack Dale. He just picked me for some reason. Then he made me talented, in different ways. Now, I can't believe I do all those things. It just makes me want to be more creative.
You were painting with him quite young?
Did he share his history?
He talked to me a lot while he was painting.
Telling you traditional stories?
I can hardly remember, I was so young. I wish he was still here with us.
Did you like painting with him, or was it work at first?
Work at first, and then we talked.
It sounds like you had a close relationship with your grandfather?
Yeah. Really close.
What is it that you want to say to young people in your community who are scared and on the outside of the art? How do they find their way in?
That's the thing I'm trying to figure out for myself. I see a lot of young people. I'm a young artist too. I want to get around and know people. Explore new places. I think, why don't they want to do that? Why don’t they want to be like that? Why are they so ashamed and hide their talents away? Me, I'm just expressing it all out. I don't want to be closed in. I want to be open to people. I want them to know who I am, and what I can do.
Do you have many other young people in the art centre?
Mostly it’s just me and my partner.
When you paint do you feel like you are actually showing yourself?
Yeah I really do.
That takes a little courage.
Yeah, I know.
You have famous artists on both sides of your family. Jack Dale on your mother’s side and the famous Paddy Bedford on your father’s side.
I can go 2 ways. Ngarinyin and Gija. Mother, father's side. I am really painting my family stories from Grandpa Jack Dale. No one is carrying on the stories and history from Paddy’s side. I wish I could help. I need to learn more about it. I need to hear the stories and spend time with the old people and the younger people.
How do you explain the connection to the land?
This is a big story. It’s very different. We're connected with the land and the old people's stories. We can't just leave it. We've got to stick together to make the land stronger.
Did you enjoy growing up on your country?
A lot. With my sister growing up. Going swimming. Hunting. Everything. Going to school there. It's really nice out there.
Did you do any art in school?
Yes, I did. Sketching. I started drawing. Then, that's when I got the idea of drawing the Wandjinas. Drawing on boab nuts. Carving. The print. That's where I got my skills from.
When did you start print making?
About a few months ago.
Can you tell me a little about what it was like going from painting to print making?
When I first started it, I wasn't too sure what to do. I was thinking, "What am I doing?" I'm sitting in the chair, looking at everything. The engravers. The engraving machines. The board right there. The pencil.
I had to learn how to do the board, and the flooring. Cut the board out, and shape. Do it with the engraver. Everything. The patterns on the body. Then, put it out with the ink. Then, we make the prints.
You were thinking, how are you going to do this?
Yeah, I didn't know at first. I was thinking, "Hide." Then I started to draw. Then, I started to carve. Then I think, "Oh, now I know." Then I started. I said to Rosie, "Is it okay to cut the body out and do something and do the print ?" That's when I did the single bodies. They're bodies of the Arawadi and Wandjinas with the dots.
What was it like when you pealed back your first print?
I was so proud. I couldn't believe that I did it. Truely.
How does it feel different to you? From painting to print making?
Well I do three things at once. I can do it all in one day. If I get spare time. I can do carvings, a lot of boab nuts. I sell to art galleries or to just random people who want to buy boab nuts on the street. Anywhere. I do carving. I do paintings. Now, I'm doing prints. So that's three different things I'm doing. That's a good thing.
There's going to be more that I want to do. I just don't want to be doing those things. I want to get more creative and inspire more young people to be like me.
You’ve gone through different stages of painting.
When I first got back to painting at the age of fourteen, at Mark Norval’s Gallery, there's just one thing. When I put out my canvas. I set all my paint brush. Put my pencil aside. I wasn't too sure what to draw again after grandpa left. I was shaking for some reason that day, when I'm stuck. I couldn't believe it. It was like, "Why am I shaking?" I could feel him just across the table.
He was a big influence in your life.
He was always there watching me doing what he taught me, when I was younger.
Do you feel his presence, even while you're working?
When you look at your work, how do you feel about it? When you walk in there, and you see your work, what's your feeling towards the work on the wall?
It makes you feel proud?
Yeah, it does. Happiness. Happy thoughts. I can't believe what I’ve done, with my own bare hands. It just makes me want to do more. I think I might do more.
Explore More Paintings from the Mowanjum Region