Dale Harding, artist

The truth is always worth fighting for ...

For a ten-year-old Dale Harding growing up in the Central Queensland town of Moranbah, the very idea of a career in the arts seemed like an impossible reverie. It was an after-school program that sparked his interest and a natural ability that fuelled the dream, but Dale would soon find himself enrolled in a Bachelor of Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art at the Queensland College of Art in South Brisbane. Dale graduated with honours last year and has already won over art critics and fans alike with his creative fusion of traditional craft forms and political and cultural themes. His work has been exhibited across the country and he’s one of a new wave of artists to be featured in the second series of Indigenous art program, Colour Theory, airing on NITV throughout March. The Weekend Edition dropped in to Dale’s studio this week to chat to the artist about his greatest lessons, fears and hopes.

You’re a descendant of the Bidjara and Ghungalu peoples of Central Queensland; can you tell us a bit about your ancestry and where you grew up?
My mum is a Bidjara woman and her father a Bidjara elder. My grandmother is a Ghungalu woman, but we also acknowledge her Garingbal elders. I’m from Central Queensland and my family is based around there. Culture and history have always played an important role in my life and childhood.

How has your culture influenced and inspired your artistic style?
My culture influences the intent and content of my works, but it’s also present in the materials and colour palette I select. I use a fairly natural colour palette and natural materials such as timber and fibres.

What are some of the key themes or messages you try to convey through your art?
History – and rewriting or revising history – is a large influence in my creative process, and the motivation behind many of my works. The content of the work influences and shapes the conceptual materials and approach I use to articulate the content.

When did you first discover your artistic talents?
I first discovered my attraction to art in an after-school program, when I was ten years old. Back then it was something I loved, but not something I could ever imagine doing as a career – I didn’t even know that art was a viable option. Art didn’t even enter my consciousness as a career or way of life until I was a teenager.

Your mum taught you how to embroider and cross-stitch as a child; what is it about these mediums that appeal to you?
It’s always been a natural part of my artistic vernacular, and a mode of expression. I began to use embroidery and cross-stitch for their conceptual meaning, as a conceptual material that I wanted to exploit.

You relocated from Central Queensland to Brisbane in 2003. What can you remember about the life transition?
I had only been down once before but I had a lot of friends who had left our town in Central Queensland and moved to Brisbane for university, and to increase their options. I remember thinking it was a very big and, at times, frightening city.

In the TV series Colour Theory, you travel back to your home in Central Queensland. What did you learn from the experience?
I hadn’t been back to Moranbah for a long time … Going back helped me learn that Brisbane is where I need to be for the present. Brisbane is the place to be for my work and for my community – both the art community and the Aboriginal community, which drives a lot of my work.

You’ve been mentored by artists like Gordon Hookey and Jennifer Herd. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt?
The most prominent and indelible thing I’ve been shown is the importance of community in arts practice – this is an extension of what I grew up to know, and a key consideration for me. Community as an extension of art; community as the source and audience of art. The need to recognise and understand your role within the community; the contribution and effect of your work.

Which of your exhibitions are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the String Theory show, which is featured in the Colour Theory series. It was at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, and is on tour nationally at present.

What do you hope your legacy will be?
I hope my legacy will be one of contribution. I want my legacy to be one that incorporates the different aspects of who I am as a person, and for it to also be about my role in my family, as a good son, brother, cousin, as well as an artist.

Who do you most admire, and why?
My grandmother, Nanna Margaret. She’s a pillar of strength, of effort and constant contribution to both her community and within our family.

What’s worth fighting for?
The truth is always worth fighting for.

What’s your idea of happiness?
It relates to my work – having the time to be in the studio, with the music up loud and a beer, especially with other artists around to bounce off and engage with.

What are your dreams and hopes for the younger generations?
That they have courage … that they have the courage to use their voice and stand up for what they believe in.

What’s your greatest fear?
Apathy. Whether it’s me or others, apathy scares me.

Which other talented Australian artists should we be keeping an eye on?
The first name that springs to mind is Tony Albert, an amazing Sydney-based artist who creates highly conceptual and informed works. He’s currently in the process of creating a war memorial for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women to be erected in Hyde Park. The concept for the memorial is a creative avenue for recognition and respect.

Where do you find peace in life?
It’s a total cliche, but in the studio. I find peace in the focused act of making art.

What are your essentials for a well-spent weekend?
A really good sound system to play great music loud. And really good conversation – conversation is a must.

What’s the last thing that made you smile?
A set of buskers, which seemed to be a father, his son and his daughter. They had somehow managed to set up a drum kit and keyboard outside the train station.

How do you define ‘success’?
Whatever the individual finds fulfilling or successful. You need to be able to define success by your own terms. I feel successful when I achieve what I set out to do, regardless of the external factors or definitions.

What are your words of wisdom?
Respect. We need to be able to respect ourselves, and respect other people. Respect is vital.

Relax …
Upstairs in the window of The Boundary Hotel, West End.
Dine …  A friend’s house.
Indulge … In the park with a selection of Jocelyn’s Provisions.
Shop … eBay.
Catch up … At a pub.
Be inspired … Out in the bush.

Dale is featured in the second series of Colour Theory, airing at 8:00 pm every Wednesday night throughout March on NITV .


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