A few years ago, while on holiday in Byron, I stumbled across a gallery in Bungalow. I was immediately captivated by these bright and breathtaking dot paintings that hung boldly on the walls.
Within 5 minutes, my partner and I were seriously discussing where we'd hang them and how we'd get them home. A pretty ridiculous idea to entertain considering we had no money, we were living with my parents with no home (or walls) of our own, and was midway through treatment for sarcoma. Lol. We walked out with my head hug low and no artwork in tow...
So you can imagine my happy dance when Kate, the same artist behind THAT artwork, applied to the Bravery Co. Scarf Design competition last year.
Kate’s powerful art tells stories, teaches, promotes Aboriginal artwork and create change where it is much needed. I am so proud and humbled by this collaboration. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Can you summarise Kate Konstantine in a sentence or two.
I am a proud Gadigal woman, artist, activist and mother from the Eora Nation. I am lucky enough to call Arakwal Land my home up in Byron Bay where live and love with my 3 sons (under 7 yrs!) and my hubby.
Have you always been an artist?
Nope. I’ve always loved art and drawing and used to make and sell cards from when I was 4/5yrs old. But until I became a mama 7 years ago I worked in Media and Advertising for almost 20 years!
What drew you to dot painting and how did you refine the beautiful style you use today?
I studied Interior Architecture at Uni and coupled with my love of drawing and painting was my love of geometry and intricate patterning. Unfortunately, my degree was FULL of engineering and math just wasn’t my strong suit at all. I wanted to wander through cobbled lane ways researching the history of People and Place and find that in their architecture. Alas, a job at Nova at start-up was shiny and exciting so I jumped ship on my degree for the bright lights of media.
It wasn’t until I had Zane (my eldest child) that I was compelled to draw and paint again with a bit of tempo that felt less like something fun to pass the time, and more like an insistence. At the same time I was really grappling with my Aboriginal Identity, it wasn’t considered cool to be a Blackfella at that time, and i was weighing heavily on my soul. I was about to have a child and I still didn’t know who I was. Big stuff!
At the same time, I broke my back, it was undiagnosed for years, but carrying my first boy literally broke me. So I was a lot more still than I’d been used to. The flood gate opened, a power combination of motherhood hormones, pain, and a need to get “it” right for my child on the way forced me to start exploring.
The rest is history as they say. I have practised my art, which is intrinsically linked to my Cultural Identity pretty much every single day since. It keeps me grounded, it keeps my busy brain quiet but best of all it keeps me closely connected to my Aboriginal ancestry and stories and is something I am so proud to share!
I recently read in Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta (as suggested by you) and loved learning about indigenous oral culture exchanges and ‘yarning.’ As it’s believed ideas and knowledge shouldn’t be pinned down in print, Yunkaporta would carve the ideas from each chapter into traditional objects. I’m wondering whether that’s true of your pieces? Do your beautiful paintings hold past conversations, memories and wisdom? Or is your subject matter more abstract?
I love that this was your take-out from the book. I literally couldn’t agree more fervently with Uncle Yunkaporta. The embedding of knowledge in a personal and physically connected way is a far greater way transfer wisdom and respect than merely scribbling it down or shoving it in an email!
All my paintings have huge meanings externally facing the world, but they also are a significant representative of a moment in time for me in my life personally. I can see a photograph of any of my hundreds of paintings and tell you it’s name, when it was completed and what I was wrestling with and researching at the time. It’s almost like a big Cultural post-it note for me, or a flag to show me where I’ve come from and where I’m going.
I have just made some clap sticks with my boys recently as gifts for our artist residency hosts in the UK, and they felt significant. The boys found the sticks and took off the bark, we sanded them together over a couple of weeks when we were kicking around with nothing to do and then I painted them. These are a gift, but they are so much more than that; they're a marker in time for us, signifying the lead up to our big 3 month adventure overseas, and they also serve the purpose of passing along of Cultural knowledge to my sons.
I say less emails, more making stuff. As someone who has done a lot of both, I am much richer for the slower experience of the latter.
Can you tell us a bit about the scarf artwork? Does it have a name and a story behind it?
The artwork is called Ken Done’s Aboriginal Sista.
I am obsessed with Ken Done, and what he was able to achieve through his colourful storytelling during a moment in time for the City of Sydney, which is my Country, Gadigal land. That man has done so much to map, document and bring to life my homeland. I also Adore his shameless use of colour. It follows that this series for me is a bit of an artist pick-me-up. Sometimes my work can be very politically focused or indeed quite heavy on my heart when deliberating the atrocities of my People and all we have lost. I like to sometimes get out of my own head and just go a wild Ken and this is the outcome.
Sista is a word us Blak women use to identify another Aboriginal woman who we share a connection with. So this story is for the Sistas.
This specific piece for me is the story of a big life. One must ride to the crest of her mountains and follow down the valleys of her landscape. Both a metaphor for our ups and downs, and also for the craziness our paths each take.
You said something in a past interview that resonated with me. You’d learnt from your local First Nations mob about “sitting with the women and weaving. The idea of being still in someone’s presence. You don’t learn that in Western culture, it’s always to be entertained and to fill every space.” Do you have any other pearls of wisdom from your life, art or First Nations culture when it comes to healing?
Weaving with the Bundjalung women up here is such a privilege and one of my greatest pleasures. It is like a catch with your girlfriends over drinks but there aren’t any drinks, your girlfriends are much more diverse and because of the weaving your conversations become yarns on much bigger discussions and topics and really feel like they clear some space in your life. It’s an act of passive and participative meditation and yet connection at the same time. I’ve never chanted with Buddhist monks but I often think it would be like weaving with the aunties on a beach somewhere.
I’m not sure I have any other pearls worth sharing, but I will share with you all one thing I find invaluable. Whenever I’m feeling disconnected with my kids, I'll bring a little basket of watercolours, or ochres and some brushes up to the house from my studio. I pop them on the table and grab some paper and glass jars full of water. I usually don’t announce anything, i just sit and start swirling the brushes round making patterns and colour movements. If your kids are anything like mine they are heat speaking missiles for messy painting stuff and hit my kitchen table in 60 seconds. I still usually don't say anything, I just help them settle into their chairs and ensure they can reach all the supplies and we just doodle away half an hour together. During this time the inevitability tell me what’s going on at school, if they are struggling with something, but the best thing, is the stories they make up for the swirls on the page. The brains explode with imagination and are open to the joy of sitting still for a bit. It’s best 30 mins of my day.
What feelings or message do you hope your scarf brings to the wearer?
Just joy and courage and know that you are held by those that love you and me that doesn’t even know you.
Where can we find more of your incredible work?SHOP Ken Done’s Aboriginal Sista scarf