For Colette O’Kane, becoming an artist was made possible by her Aboriginal teachers in Australia.
Though O’Kane struggled to define her eclectic collection of works in her latest exhibition Above Below Beyondat Art on Tyne, she was certain of the influence Aboriginal artwork had on her paintings, giving those who first introduced her to painting full credit.
Before moving to Oamaru three years ago, O’Kane spent more than 10 years teaching in Aboriginal schools in central, northern and western Australia.
Artist Lena Pwerle was O’Kane’s biggest inspiration and had encouraged her artistic endeavours.
In Papunya, Northern Territory, O’Kane spent time with world famous artists of the Western Desert art movement, who are known for their dot paintings.
“I wouldn’t be painting if I didn’t live out there. They were so good to me.”
When she lived and taught in Alekarenge, an Aboriginal elder would take her along with the boys and young men of the community to visit important sites.
“We went where the rainbow serpent would come out of the earth and shake the ground.”
The rainbow serpent depicted in her painting Sh’Boom, was her favourite element of the piece.
In the centre sat an Aboriginal woman, creating the world from “Dreamtime”, which spilled out into the fantasy world.
O’Kane’s paintings were never planned out, but always started with mountains and water, then would develop from there.
Sh’Boom was no different, depicting small figures among wide, bright hills; shapes of animals and people blended into the landscape, and bright colours that emulated the variety and harmony of life.
Another big inspiration to her work was nature.
As a small girl in the high country of Southland, she often sat on a woolshed at night, contemplating the stars and sleeping under the sky.
Her painting Sandover Dream depicted the night sky in Utopia, northern Australia.
“The skies in central Australia are not like anywhere else in the world.
” It looked like you could walk into it.”
Above Below Beyond was not only the title of O’Kane’s exhibition, but also described how she “saw the world”, as something connected to the sky, the earth and beyond what could be seen.