About Rosella

Who is Rosella Namok?

Rosella Namok is a well known Australian Aboriginal artist.  She grew up in Lockhart River community in North Queensland on Australia's east coast. Rosella Namok’s lands are to the south of Lockhart River.

What is Rosella Namok famous for?

Rosella is famous for her contemporary landscape paintings of the tropical rain, the tide marks and the moon and references to traditional stories. Standing in a room with her works will transport you to her country as the stinging tropical rain comes in over the sea.

When was Rosella Namok born?

Rosella was born in 1979 at the Lockhart River.

What languages does Rosella Namok speak?

Rosella speaks English as well as the traditional Ungkum language spoken in her community.

 

Rosella Namok - Reflections on my Life

Home

I grew up near Lockhart River. My Mum is from up Torres Strait. She met up with my Dad in Lockhart. So we, my six siblings and I, grew up all our lives in Lockhart.

Now I've moved down to the city, Cairns. I miss a lot about being back home. When I paint in my studio, I always feel for home. It's where my Mum is back there as well as all my family.

Working in the studio keeps me nice and calm. It makes me think about home as well. That's why I do a lot of painting about home.

I paint from my memories mostly. Wet season, dry season. It's everywhere back home in the Cape. The river will rise. It's all about nature and you are cut off.

It is very expensive going by plane so we drive there. I always go back home for school holidays and Christmas. I can stay longer with Mum and the family at Christmas. School holidays are always such a short time. I have to rush back to Cairns so the kids can go to school. Christmas is longer and I like that there's more time with family. We can go fishing. We just have to make sure we get up there before the rains come.

(Interview with Japingka 2019)

I don't have any extended family here in Cairms, except my neighbours and we get on really well. When I go back home everyone gets really excited. I catch up with a lot of family and friends. I go back out on country and go fishing and camping.

(Interview with Japingka 2021)

Rosella Namok | Stinging Rain – Night Time Fishing
Rosella Namok | Stinging Rain – Night Time Fishing | Jap 011927

Night Hunting

I've loved fishing and camping for a long time. We go out on the boat. Night hunting is always popular for us. I would go out with my ex-partner and we'd take our kids. We'd show them a lot about our culture and the night hunting.

Sometimes we get good weather at night, and sometimes we get bad weather. Sometimes we get stuck at night time hunting and we feel that stinging rain. It's not a good feeling. We just sit in the boat and cover up with towels and feel that rain stinging.

We try to teach our kids how to hunt. When they get the tucker, a big turtle or a dugong, we have to teach them how to cut it up ready for special ceremonies.

Girls can't cut up the catch. They also can't hold a spear in the boat. It's a tradition that only the men do that. These things are taught in stories about the practical ways to hunt.

(Interview with Japingka 2019)

Studio Routine

I'm a house Mum. The kids go to school. As soon as they are off to school I go straight into the studio. I work from home. I've got a four-door garage. I work by myself and I like to listen to music on the radio. I listen to the old songs from the eighties and sixties. It gets me rolling too when I listen to music. I live in a valley so I have mountain views on both sides so it is nice and peaceful. I can focus more and think more.

Sometimes I get family down and they keep me busy. It's harder to paint. I take them here and take them there. It's been good to be with family. Then it's good to get back into the studio. It's nice and peaceful and quiet and I can listen up to a little bit of music. I can focus more on colours and trying out something different.

(Interview with Japingka 2019)

Rosella Namok Morning Rain
Rosella Namok | Morning Rain | Jap 015240
Rosella Namok's Rainforrest Rain
Rosella Namok | Rainforrest Rain | Jap 017911

Where Ideas Come 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 camping and fishing. We're right on the east coast. That's all beachfront. 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.

(Interview with Japingka 2018)

Choosing Colours

I sometimes look at the weather outside. So if it's overcast I might work with those colours. Then tomorrow might be a nice sunny day - so I might do a nice set of colours. Then the afternoon too, when I see those colours of the sun going down.

On the plane coming here yesterday my son pointed out the sky colours to me and took a picture. There was a nice late afternoon sunset. He said, "Mum check that out. That looks good as a painting. That's just beautiful."

(Interview with Japingka 2019)

Rosella Namok Sunset Rain
Rosella Namok | Sunset Rain | 017913
Rosella Namok Warm Lagoo
Rosella Namok | Warm Lagoon | Jap 015645

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.

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.

(Interview with Japingka with Japingka 2018)

The Houston Ballet

Rosella had her painting used as a backdrop for the Houston Ballet for the ballet "The Rite of Spring". 

I was excited. Wow. I've never seen my work that huge before. I've only ever seen it like it is in this exhibition. At one part I got teary because I thought about my good friend old Geoff Barker. He passed away from a tumour, but he was a good friend and showed me a lot about the art world.

When I saw that background in Houston I was sitting with my youngest son. At the moment it first came up I was so shocked and surprised. At one part I pictured old Geoff and felt very emotional inside. He would have been really proud to see something like that. He was a work friend but he was a family friend too. He meant a lot to me. I lost my father years ago and he took me in and showed me the art world as a father would. This is why I got so emotional when I saw that painting up there.

Interview with Japingka 2019

Rosella Namok painting as backdrop for Houston Ballet.

How I Describe My Art 

They are contemporary, modern paintings and they are all about home. It has 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."

(Interview with Japingka 2018)

Creature Visits To The Studio

Rosella talked about some of the problems she has with her studio in the tropics. She explained that these occur when she lays her paintings out on the floor to dry. There can sometimes be visits from the neighbour's cats, little green tree frogs or tiny black bush bees. The bees are particularly attracted to any areas of black in her paintings. Rosella also mentioned that she has even had a visit from a python. She said she was relieved to peep into the studio the next day and discover that the snake had moved on by itself.

(Opening Night Story 2019)

Rosella Namok - Stories From My Paintings

Tidal Markings

Some of my paintings show the tidal markings in the sand. We get a lot of king tides up there and they are nice patterns.

Interview with Japingka 2019

Rosella Namok Mark in the Sand
From 2013 Exhibition | Rosella Namok | Mark in the Sand | Jap 009634
Rosella Namok Waterfall at Night
Rosella Namok | Waterfall at Night | Jap 017935

Waterfalls

The waterfalls I'm painting here are around Cairns. They are the Crystal Cascades*. I also paint about the waterfalls back home.

I always go down to the creek with my nieces and nephews. The waterfalls always catch my eye and I think about how to paint them.

This waterfall at night painting is about The Rocks area here. They have it lit up at night and you can go there and swim and have a barbeque there. It's lovely.

Interview with Japingka 2021
* The Crystal Cascades is a series of freshwater waterfalls located a short 25-minute drive from Cairns. 

Bushfire

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.

Interview with Japingka 2018

Rosella Namok Tracks After Bushfire
From 2018 Exhibition | Rosella Namok | Tracks after Bushfire | Jap 015245
Rosella Namok Deep Lagoon
Rosella Namok | Deep Lagoon | Jap 015646

Lagoon

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.

Interview with Japingka 2018

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.

We've got a word for that moon back at home. We call it Taywai. It's always eye-catching.

Interview with Japingka 2018

Rosella Namok Full Moon
Rosella Namok | Full Moon | Jap 017930
Rosella Namok's Weaving Grass
Rosella Namok | Weaving Grass | Jap 017938

Weaving Grass

I used to paint the weaving grass years ago and just recently I've started painting it again. The old girls get the grasses from around community. They go into the outer lands on country and they collect the grasses. They take them back home and soak them in a bucket of water overnight. Then they hang it out for a couple of days and this makes it dry and really tough. Then you weave your weaving grass. The old people used the weaving grass a lot in the old days to carry food,  bush tucker, worms, wild bush yams.

These days they still sometimes use the weaving grass at home. My grandmother still carries her weaving grass with her purse and everything in it. More recently a lot of the weaving grass is made for Arts Centre to display in exhibitions. They also use put extra bush dyes - the red ochre and the yellow ochre and different colours are used to make different colours of the weaving grass as well.

Interview with Japingka 2021

Rain

I love my fishing and I love my camping as well. That's the reason I'm trying to get a boat to get back on the water again when I'm up in the community. I'd love to take Mum out. Every time we go out fishing you see the colours of the sunset and the water as well.

Every time I see a clear day I say to Mum, "come on let's go fishing." A nice clear day when the water is crystal clean. The day  comes really good and you can see in the distance the clouds building up. You think "oh well maybe a couple more hours." You can see a big storm coming from miles away. Then I think, it's just a couple more fish and time to roll up. I get a lot of ideas from when I'm out on the boat. I grew up in this community and I know where all the good fishing spots are for barramundi and mangrove jacks.

The rain is beautiful. My Mum loves it because the caps on top of the water wake up the fish. That's when we love to fish in the rain too. Especially the heavy rain.

The freshwater from the rain flows into the salt water and brings with it a lot of food for the fish. That's why you'll see the locals fishing in the muddy parts where the freshwater meets the saltwater.

Interview with Japingka 2021

Rosella Namok's Purple Rain
Rosella Namok | Purple Rain | Jap 017932
Rosella Namok Two Brothers
Rosella Namok | Two Brothers | Jap 017925

Two Brothers

I've actually got seven brothers and three sisters.  My first four brothers were from my Dad's first partner. Then Dad met Mum and had another three boys. But we are really close together.

Interview with Japingka 2021

Clan Groups

Up at home, there are seven different clan groups in the community. I am one of the seven. We each have different areas, different homelands in Lockhart River. There are a couple of clan groups that belong to the south side and a few that belong to the north side.

We are all one community and we are like a big family. We all live in one area but sometimes you still need to ask permission from another family if you wanted to go into their homelands, their clan group area. Because we are all one family if you catch a lot of fish or a turtle you just go back and share it in the community. Everyone gets along really well - we are a very happy clan group.

Interview with Japingka 2021

Rosella Namok Clan Groups 1 J
Rosella Namok | Clan Groups 1 | Jap 017918
Rosella Namok Three Sisters
Rosella Namok | Three Sisters | Jap 017927

Sisters

The three sisters that I paint are about me, my older sister and my younger sister. My younger sister passed away seventeen years ago. My older sister passed two months ago. I miss them both a lot. That's why I just keep painting about them. Some days they stay in my mind and I just put those feelings and memories on the canvas. I haven't quite really let them go yet. These paintings just to keep part of them alive for me.

Interview with Japingka 2021

When my sister died my niece was still very small. Mum and I took care of her. I had a job here in Cairns and she went to school here. During the holidays she'd go back to stay with Mum back at home in the community. As she got older she thought she was lucky because she had two mums. She didn't realise. Eventually, she came to understand that my mum was her Nana and that I was actually her Auntie. She's still always calling me Mum.

Interview with Japingka 2021

Bamboo

Spears - I've actually got some pink bamboos in the back of my yard. My partner and my brothers, cut some of the bamboos to make spears and we go down to the creek or down to the beaches and get some stingrays and spear some fish like marlin or trevally. The pink bamboos are really popular up at home, too. A lot of the locals use it as well for spearguns and spears. In our language these spears are called a Waip. They use it to go out on the boat to go hunting, to spear turtles and dugongs.
Up in the community, the locals use it a lot. Theirs is a different bamboo from the one that grows in Cairns. Here we have this pink bamboo. Up in the community, we have the yellow bamboo that grows in the rainforest.

Painting - I sometimes use bamboo sticks for my rain paintings. I use a tiny little bamboo. Not a really thick one. If I can't find a curtain rod, I go and use a bamboo rod.

Interview with Japingka 2021

 

Rosella Namok Pink Bamboo Cane
Rosella Namok | Pink Bamboo Cane | Jap 015242
Rosella Namok Unchii Tree
Rosella Namok | Unchii Tree | Jap 017937

Unchii Trees (Paperbark)

This is about the paperbark tree. It's about the time after the fire season when the locals go and burn the grass to get some new soot. Once the paperbark is burnt it becomes a black charcoal. You can see the blood coming out too, the sap.

This painting is about that time after the dry season when they burn the grass and the paperbark trees are getting burnt and turning into that black charcoal. The sap still running through It will become hard.

Interview with Japingka 2021

 

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