Nina Shadforth talks with artist and 2014 Archibald finalist,Jandamarra Cadd. The peaceful warrior for Indigenous equality opens up about his creative journey, quest for social justice and especially his Archibald Prize journey.
When did you start your practice? Have you always been a creative person?
I started 27 years ago as a 15 year old when I used painting as a means to express myself.
I have always been able to see and experience life in a way that seemed "different", which in hindsight I realise was my creativity.
Where was your first exhibition?
It was in 2000 - a combined exhibition through Deakin University (where I studied my Bachelor of Visual Arts) - a group show at the Koorie Heritage Trust. I sold two of my three pieces.
Can you recall when you transitioned from emerging artist to professional artist?
I think it was the opening night of my first touring solo exhibition in Melbourne (Past. Present. Future), which has been solidified since then with subsequent successful solo exhibitions and becoming an Archibald Finalist.
What/who inspires your work?
Social conscience issues inspire my work - the drive of breaking down those barriers of racism, sexism, oppression and injustice. And those people that live with these human rights violations inspire me - their resilience and fortitude under such difficult situations. Especially those who stood up in years gone by, where society and the law supported their unjust oppression.
Looking from the outside in, what genre is your work?
I've been described as a contemporary Aboriginal portrait artist. But I don't tend to label or classify myself as I just paint based on how I feel led at the time. I don't restrict myself creatively.
Tell me about your day-to-day work activity in your studio/workspace?
After breakfast I head into the studio. I sit before the canvas I'm working on and call in the Ancestors and ensure my intentions are set. I tend to paint 12 - 16 hour days.
I need to be 100% present and tend to listen to select music to facilitate my focus. I prefer to also have many days in a row to paint and can't take phone calls or visits as it takes me out of my creative flow.
What can you reveal about your entries for this year’s Archibald and Doug Moran prizes?
I am working on my 2015 Archibald portrait of Luke Carroll which is titled "Storyteller" and also my Doug Moran portrait of Uncle Bob Randall titled: "We Are The Land". Both of these portraits are done completely in a traditional ochre dot style with the intention of showing how the land and culture is an integral part of their identity as it has been for over 60,000 years for Aboriginal People - just as water is to a fish - and although they are living in a modern day society these connections are strong and an unbreakable link to the past.
What do you look for when selecting a sitter for an Archibald portrait?
I look for a strong sense of self and individual character. Something that shines through and that speaks volumes about what I feel are the universal fundamentals of our humanity. Often associated with human rights or redemption of oneself.
How long have you been working on your pieces for the Archibald and Doug Moran prizes?
I worked on these entries 5 days a week for 6 months. This piece is layered dots, which means dots on top of dots to give it full shape and form. So this requires quite a long time to allow for a desired outcome of having an aesthetically appealing piece while also exposing the richness of the subject.
What goes through your mind when you are at the completion of an Archibald portrait?
I have never felt the satisfaction of "finishing" a painting and probably never will, as I am usually left with the need to let go of that outcome and be at peace with what is there at the end. I do gain great satisfaction knowing that I gave my absolute everything to share a visual narrative of the sitter and that this will be viewed and their story seen and acknowledged. On a practical level really enjoy the feeling of sealing a piece with gloss and seeing the paint come alive.
Thinking from when you had your first exhibition to the present day; what has been a career highlight?
Becoming an Archibald Finalist last year, however it was actually the night before the winner was announced. The incredible amount of support I received from my local community, as well as people nationally and internationally in text messages, emails, Facebook comments, and phone calls was what truly was the highlight for me. It was so heartwarming to feel such solidarity and confirmation that what I'm doing is beyond just creating an aesthetically appealing painting.
Where do you see your practice/yourself in five years?
I would like to be exhibiting overseas, to reach a broader audience with the message of unity and equality, while doing what I love and continuing to meet and be inspired by beautiful hearted people along the way.
If you were to host a dinner party, which artist/s would you like to have as your guest?
If we can interpret "artist" more broadly than visual, I admire people like Johnny Depp or Anthony Hopkins as a versatile artist who devotes himself to his roles and narratives, the way I endeavour to honour my subjects and create my paintings. Similarly Nahko Bear who is devoted to both his craft and his message as well as not limiting himself to a particular style of song.
Jandamarra’s 2014 Archibald Prize finalist work: ‘Proud’ is currently touring regional NSW, with two venues left to host the exhibition:
Broken Hill Art Gallery (NSW) 05/06/2015 - 19/07/2015
Griffith Regional Art Gallery (NSW) 24/07/2015 - 06/09/2015