Rosella Namok comes from the Aangkum language group who live to the south of Lockhart River in the Cape York Peninsula region in Queensland. Seventeen years ago Rosella set up a studio in Cairns. She and her family regularly visit family and friends at Lockhart River and the coastal land she feels is her true home. This is the place which forms the inspiration for her landscape paintings. In this interview Rosella talks about inspiration, her colours and works from her latest exhibition.
Where do you like to paint?
I work from home. I have a studio here in Cairns. I find working at home is nice and relaxed. I can focus on working with new colours. I’ve been taking my old style into a new style using new brighter colours.
Where do your new ideas from?
I usually work it through by myself. I keep an open mind. Sometimes when I get commissions from galleries they request certain things that I will think about.
I also get ideas from visits to the beach. I love my camping and fishing. We’re right on the east coast. That’s all beach front. We go camping a lot back at home at Lockhart River. We do that especially around this time of the year as it’s school holidays. Being on the coast gives me a lot of good ideas. I come back to my Cairns studio and put it all in my paintings. I use those memories of where we’ve been camping and fishing.
What do you enjoy most about your painting practice?
A bit of everything. I also do a workshop down in Brisbane with Michael Eather, Fireworks Gallery. I fly down there every month and do a little workshop with him and get more ideas. That helps me keep an open mind when I’m working out my colours. It refreshes me and I can focus more. I find I use bright new colours, instead of working on the same old colours every time.
Your painting called Stinging Rain uses colours from all parts of the colour spectrum. What effects are you aiming to get from the colour selection in each work?
I’m trying to aim at the landscape colours. The rain paintings are my idea of looking out at sea as the weather changes. I use a lot of blues because it might be an overcast or stormy day. Sometimes I use a nice sunset colour. There’s a secret to my rain paintings because there’s a lot of different colours mixed in. That’s my little secret.
You can tell it looks like a landscape. Like you see in the rainforest, it’s got a little touch of greens. I like showing different colours. If I’m looking at a rain painting I like to mix the blues with blends of different colours.
What started you on the series of paintings about the moon?
The moon, that’s the series. Well, it’s funny, but I was sitting out the back of my studio, just after work, and it was a full moon night, a big bright moonlight. I was sitting and I was looking at the moon. I was just playing with my fingers making and sizing my fingers into the frame for the moon. I was thinking I should try that moon. It was something that was really new for me, too, at that time. I had to find a way to produce it on the canvas. I found a little technique that I liked, so I tried it on a smaller canvas and it worked out. I thought “I’ll try and work it on a bigger one.” That came out really well. I’m adding colours to it too instead of just making it all blue. I put in extra lines just to give it a bit of texture.
What sort of feelings do you have about the moon? Does it have a meaning for you?
We’ve got a word for that moon back at home. We call it Taywai. It’s always eye-catching.
One of your recent big paintings is called Tracks After Bushfire. Can you tell us something about the process of making this painting?
This is about the plains of grassland you see at the side of the road. After a bushfire a lot of local people will go out shooting pigs or cattle. They make a lot of prints through the bush, like bush fire prints. You can see a little bit of bushfire still burning. Trees are still burning.
One of the new paintings is called “Blue Lagoon,” is that a specific place?
It’s our swimming hole back at home at Lockhart River. It’s my childhood swimming spot. We call it “blue water” because the water’s always clean. It’s just a swimming hole that I used to go to after school and go for a swim to cool off especially on a hot day.
What sort of places draw your imagination?
I like going back to the old country because my Dad’s got his own homeland. It’s down in the South of Lockhart. We always go down there during the school holidays. I do a lot of paintings about my homeland. I like especially the rain paintings like Marks In The Sand and The Low Tide. They always remind me of home.
How would you describe your paintings to someone who hasn’t seen them before?
They are contemporary, modern paintings and they are all about home. It has a meaning because I’ve been down living in the city for over seventeen years now. People always ask “Do you ever paint about Cairns? They mean this place that is home for my family now. I tell them, “I always carry my home with me in my heart because I grew up there. It’s always home.”
What is the best thing about your job of being an artist, what do you love about it?
It takes me around the world to see everything. It’s something that I love and enjoy doing every day. I am creating more art and it’s good that I can show a lot of people where home is. It keeps me busy, too. Rather than thinking about negative stuff I always think positive. I enjoy doing something I’m good at.
As the kids have grown up they’ve been surrounded by art. They know what Mum loves. They especially love it when I finish doing a good days work and they’ll come in and say “Oh, Mum, that’s nice. I like that.” That makes me feel good. I like that the kids love enjoy the work that I do at home and in the studio. It makes me feel really, really good inside. I feel comforted and want to do more.
How would you like to see the future go for your painting practice? How do you want things to be in the future?
I’d like to just keep doing more paintings and keep producing new stuff. It’s exciting when other people buy your work and you know your work’s in a good place. I want to produce more and just make people happy.
What do you think your art means to the people of your community?
It would mean a lot to them because they know that the places that I paint on canvas. It’s good for them to see me putting it out there for everyone to see. It makes everybody feel proud back home.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about your art?
I’d love you to enjoy my art. There’s a little part of myself in those paintings. So it means a lot to me, too.
View: Rosella Namok