Lorraine Connelly Northey talks about process
Lorraine Connelly Northey talks about becoming an artist, and the influence of family and country in her work.
-So as one of six children, our non-Aboriginal dad would take us out camping for the weekend, because it was really tough, and we didn't have much money, and we'd pretty much lived off the land-- Dad teaching us what he knew about the bush craft. And also I think a lot of pretending he knew lots about other things to do with Aboriginal Australia and traditional Aboriginal lifestyle.
He would tell us, if the bird eats that kind of fruit, you can eat that too. But as an adult, you realize that there are certain fruits for birds that are not for human consumption.
But the other wonderful thing with Dad teaching us about wildlife and the waterways, even right down to the landscapes and different soils, he also taught us a lot about the flora and fauna, and certainly, the flora really did attract my attention as a young person.
And then also a lot of spending lots of time with Mum and doing different kinds of works to do with hand crafts. When Mum would not have the time or had to go somewhere or an interruption, Mum would actually allow me to continue on with her piece of art, whether it was crochet or some kind of fiber work or something, Mum would actually get me to fill the gap while she was gone. So here I was also, you know, not only learning about all what the bush had to offer in traditional Aboriginal lifestyle through Dad, but also learning the arts and crafts, using your hands to make a manufacture works through Mum as well.
So I'd learned that I was very good with my hands. Because if I wasn't, Mum wouldn't have let me.
So these were great things I had as foundations, I suppose, to fall back on as I because older and adult. And then I went on to become a public servant after retiring from the public service. I actually decided that Aboriginal basket-weaving quite interests me. So I thought, this is a great idea and a good excuse to get back at into the Mallee and the river area, and look at those things that Dad had taught me as a young girl.
And so I was able to would actually access Dad and con Dad up to take me out-- take me back out bush. And so this is what we actually did. Over a period of about five years. Because my idea was that I didn't what my weaving to look like everybody else's. And so I decided that instead of using the same plants-- the reputable plants-- I would use something different. I would use different plants.
So when I went out exploring the different kinds of plants, I was quite shocked at how many plants there were. So I had to really narrow it down, and I had to make decisions about which plants I would use. And I thought, perhaps if I just use the plants that I can learn about that are like of Aboriginal usage. Perhaps that would narrow it down quite nicely. So this is a decision that I made. And then I realized there were all these great categories that I could get from these plants like medicinal plants rather than a reed from the river. I was convinced that that would make me very distinguished from all the weavers to date.
But the other beautiful thing about out in the bush exploring with someone like Dad, we'd always come across old rubbish dumps. And Dad can't help himself, but he was a scavenger. Certainly where I've got it from. So we'd rummage through and look at these old tips for pieces of interest.
And Dad had kicked a pieced of rusty old corrugated iron and was saying to me, why don't I use this kind of material in my art work? I kind of screwed mine eyes up and thought, what would I do with a rusty old bit of tin? And he kept kind of going on about it, and really just to shut him up, you know, I did pick up the piece of tin. And I did put it in the car, and I took it home. So it kind of hung around me. And I suppose it probably irritated me more than anything else, this bit of tin. And I don't know, I decided I'd do something about it to kind of please Dad, who was a regular visitor of my house.
So a couple of days later, Dad had rocked up with an old axe head-- a rusty old axe head. I'd decided that I would use this as a quite a heavy weight to bang around and reshape the tin. I realized that I'd actually made the shape of what could be a gatherer's bowl, known as a coolamon. And so I actually asked Mum, who was visiting at the time, you know, what did she think that shape was? And she said, oh, a coolamon, of course.
I realized I was suddenly a sculptor. I could sculpt all sorts of things to do with all those shapes, to do all that knowledge I had been acquiring. It was certainly unique. No one else was doing it. So I thought, this is great stuff. And so I thought, well, I could afford to experiment, and I'd leave that weaving perhaps of up my sleeve.
So this is pretty exciting having or being able to develop an art practice with found materials. And so now I've had to work out how do I go about that, and how do I get that closest to what I'd set out to do with weaving? And so I've done a lot of thinking, and a lot of experimenting and collecting and working out, what kind of found materials best match or come closest to a finished product of something that I would have woven.
So I'm looking at the weavings of all around Australia. I'm looking at the different loops in the weave. And I'm looking at the different end products of the weave. So some weaves, for example, in Northern Territory, there are magnificent, quite intricate, rectangular shapes. And then we get into the beautiful diamond-y shapes of down in the bottom of Australia, and all sorts of things. And so this is interesting that we have these different shapes within a weave, because it allows me to be a bit more open for which would I collect and scrounge for.
And McClellan Art Gallery, their gallery director at the time I was exhibiting there had written an article and talked about how he saw that I was actually collecting materials that best matched what a finished product or woven material looked like. So I was pretty excited with this person that he had actually cottoned on to what I was doing.