Kathleen has become a prolific artist, who paints in the Western Desert tradition using children’s stories and images to create work that inspires joy in others to supports their healing process. Her work has an international following and has evolved over twenty-six years, expressing hope, humour and a powerful life force for health and wellbeing.
I paint for the enjoyment of others. My work helps them in their healing process, if they are going through difficult circumstances in their lives.
My studio is a tranquil place, eighteen kilometres from Alice Springs. I’ve lived here on my husband’s maternal land for 27 years.
I tell children’s stories in my work, because they bring joy. And the healing energy of my own Christianity radiates through my work. Everyone has their own gifts, their own calling; when you find it through the will of God, everything becomes effortless. My life is a blessing; I’m on the right track.
The painting I’ve submitted here is called ‘Children Catching Frogs After Rain’ – for everyone it has memories of childhood; it’s a fun story. It takes you back to a time before iPads, when there was just the tranquillity of the bush.
I grew up with my white grandparents, my father’s parents, as a small child. When I was 10, my siblings and I returned to central Australia to my mother and our family at Hermannsberg Community (Ntaria). My nan recognised my talent and encouraged it. She recognised it, because she had it too. When I was in Year 11, I won an art award but that’s not what started my career as an artist. I did a hairdressing apprenticeship, but I stopped work, when I was expecting my first son. My sister was designing and painting T-shirts at the time and asked me to help. When her employer saw the work, she knew my sister hadn’t done it, because mine was so much better (laughs). So, I painted for a living during pregnancy, designing and painting Tshirts.
Now my painting has evolved over 26 years. It’s finer, easier and I enjoy what it brings to others. I use acrylics on cotton canvas, I stretch all my own work, I ship the works all over the world. I’ve become very good at packing.
But what I would love to do is paint in watercolours in the style of Namatjira and Hermannsberg artists; capture the way Namatjira drew the landscape. Hubert Pareroultja, who has just won the Wynne Prize at the 2020 Archibald, is a West Aranda man. He paints his country, the West MacDonnell ranges. And he will only paint that country, everything tells a story – the trees, the rocks, the water holes.
Western Desert dot paintings also tell stories; sometimes symbols that are too sacred are hidden under the dots. I wrote a poem about dot painting, which all began in the 1970s.
“Dot painting started many years ago way out west of Alice Springs. One white school teacher was watching aboriginal men telling stories, and he began thinking.
How could these stories be shared, and not just written in the sand? So he gave the people paint and boards, and brushes were put in hands.
Many things could not be shared for everyone to see. Elements of an ancient culture, hidden in dots and symbols of the sacred stories.
So that’s where dot painting first began in the 1970’s. Today so many paintings are shared for the whole wide world to see.
People telling stories of their country, and stories about their life. Stories that have been told for thousands of years in aboriginal culture and family life.
When I was young I watched my family telling stories on desert sand, later I became a painter and I began to understand. The stories told are sand paintings given life in vibrant colour. It’s way of aboriginal storytelling that we can share with others.
So thanks to Geoffrey Bardon, Papunya’s art school teacher, who could see, that there was something special about storytelling, in dust then, by the desert aborigines.”
More of Kathleen’s work can be found at https://kathleenbuzzacott.com.au