Christine Slabb, Indigenous artist, Christine Slabb Designs
Be authentic, be yourself ...
Indigenous artist, graphic designer and jewellery maker, Christine Slabb is one multi-talented woman. Her paintings adorn walls in Japan, the United States, South Africa, Denmark and of course right here on the Gold Coast, and she was named North Coast TAFE Indigenous Student of the Year 2014. The Weekend Edition Gold Coast recently caught up with Christine to talk inspiration, heritage and culture.
Your skills as an artist are so diverse, can you tell us how you learnt your craft?
I have always been creative. My creativity began at an early age, and was encouraged during my educational years. It was in later years that I began to recognise my creativity as a skill and the possibilities of making it a career. I began to find my niche as an Indigenous artist when I moved back to my mother’s home town here on the Gold Coast, where I met my husband and started my journey of reconnection with my Aboriginal heritage. It was after learning traditional cultural stories, protocols and practices, I began to paint and design, being inspired by the very lifestyle we live.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Inspiration for my work comes from a strong connection to my local environment and community. My family lives a lifestyle that is very connected to nature and continues to practice traditional cultural principles. Inspiration comes to me from cultural stories, cultural practices, nature, seasons and everyday life. Being from a coastal group of Aboriginal people, we have a strong affiliation with the sea and all of its richness and resources, so a lot of my designs are inspired by the coastal lifestyle that we find here on the coast.
Do you have a favourite piece you’ve created? Where and when did you create it, and what made it so special?
My favourite piece would have to be a painting I did recently for a very special Sikh, who was a visiting VIP on the Gold Coast. The painting depicted the local rivers, how they flow and interrelate through the catchment and the importance of the water in our lives. The Sikh was overwhelmed and amazed because they had an identical story in their homeland in Asia. In this moment, two cultures from opposite sides of the world had the same story. It was a moment that has stuck with me.
What was your childhood dream?
As a child I was very active in sports and all ways wanted to be a female version of the famous basketballer Michael Jordan. My parents were very supportive in all I did and it was no surprise to them when I began to pursue art and design throughout the later years of my education. It was around this time that I was fixed on the idea of art and design, and being able to create and turn ideas into reality is something that has kept me on my journey so far.
What is it about Indigenous art in particular that resonates with you?
Simply put, Indigenous art is who I am – each piece I design has some elements of a cultural principle, a cultural protocol or a cultural practice. For generations Indigenous people have been painting and telling stories as a means to retain vital and complex cultural knowledge. Each piece I do has a story, the story may speak of cultural resources such as bush tucker and throughout the painting I will depict seasons such as when things are ripe, places to harvest, correct cultural protocols of dealing with the resource and so forth. Understandably all this may not be seen to the untrained eye, therefore I always to have story to accompany my art. I must give credit to the many fantastic Indigenous community elders and members around me that share cultural knowledge with me as inspiration.
Where did you grow up? Has this influenced the direction of your art?
I grew up in Western Australia, and moved back to the Gold Cast where my mother is originally from in my late teen years. I felt a sense of belonging and connection immediately to the southern end of the Gold Coast and this was increased when I meet my husband and his family, who have a strong cultural grounding in this area. I am very inspired by the coastal lifestyle and the local environment that we live in and the cultural elements that have been passed on from generation to generation. I have recently been involved in some swimwear design for local manufacturers, so the transference and relationships between the local lifestyle/area and my influences are beginning to merge, which is very exciting.
You recently hand painted some pretty special surfboards, can you tell us some more about that project?
The timber surfboards I painted were part of a Danish exchange student program at a local educational institute. The students built and tested timber surfboards. I was lucky enough to be able to paint a couple of the timber surfboards, one that was taken back to the sister college in Denmark as a reminder of their time here in Australia, and another to hang in the local institute. These types of projects are great to work on as not only do I get to represent myself as an artist, but also my work is a representation of Indigenous Australia and generally Australia as a nation throughout the world.
You’ve already received so many accolades, what would you consider to be your career highlight so far?
I mostly love that my career choice enables me to be me. My inspiration comes from my lifestyle, my culture, my community and my family, so the fact that I can get up each day and just simply be me and begin to create what inspirers me is what I acknowledge as my greatest career highlight. My work is a part of me so it is always important to remain authentic throughout it all.
Where would you love to see your work one day?
I would love to see my work throughout the world, but equally as important I would like to see my work inspire other young Indigenous artists and designers to the point where they to will like to see their work throughout the world. I would like my art and designs to play a role in cultural knowledge sharing in our local community and be a form of cultural perpetuity into the future. At some stage in my career would like to work on a major event and have my work used on a national/global scale.
What messages do you hope to convey through your art?
I like to convey positive messages through my art and authentic cultural meaning. I convey a message of relationship between Indigenous people and the environment. I hope my work helps to inspire other young artists and designers to follow their dreams.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I like to spend time at the beach, either surfing or fishing or hanging out with my family. I always find some ways to be creative throughout the day. If it is a beach day then I will be building things out of driftwood, or seaweed and shells – no matter where I am, I like to create.
Are there any other artists that inspire you?
Young people always inspire me, especially my children, nephews and nieces. Their creative thinking and application is fresh and exciting. Their realms and boundaries of life have not been fully engaged, so when they create it is always a world that is ideal and unique. My 15-year-old nephew Bijang Slabb is very talented and I am always excited to see the next piece he will produce. I am sure he will have a big future in art and design or what ever he puts his mind to.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other artists?
Be authentic, be yourself, take inspiration from the things that make you happy and this will be evident in your art and your life. Listen and learn whenever you have the chance because it might be a few simple words that may ignite the spark to greatness.
What’s next for you?
Lately I am being inspired by my love for the ocean – that is what has lead me to swimwear patterns and design. I am seeking to continue to work in collaboration with other specialists and would love to gain these opportunities in our local area to support local business. Also, just getting creative each day and developing myself as an artist/designer.
FAVOURITE WEEKEND SPOT TO:
Perk up… If I told you that, you would all be there! But straight out of my backyard, through the bush and onto the beach seems to be a real winner for me as summer approaches. I always try to avoid the crowds – I like to get some waves to surf to myself.
Relax… I like to take my camera and go for a bush walk and explore some of the magnificent coastal bushland that the area has to offer. This seems to really help me stop, unwind and relax.
Dine… I love to visit Miami Marketta on Saturday nights, as it has great cultural diversity and a large variety of food, but usually I will go with a homemade meal on the beach with my family, watching the moon rise.
Be inspired… My inspiration comes mostly from my surroundings, the environment, nature and my community. Hopefully I can inspire people by telling them to be true to the heart and to follow your dreams, and treat others as you would like to be treated.