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Fire Hawks. Mixed medium, 42cm x 59 cm. Image: Supplied

The art of letting the spirit flow

Queensland artist Uncle Jo Stuurman talks about his work and the enduring link between art, family, culture and spirituality.

My name was originally Joseph Cuttabut, I am a Noongar from Western Australia. My people were at Carrolup Mission near Katanning during the Forties.

I was adopted out as so many of us were at the time. As a child I lived in the Netherlands for a few years then came back to Western Australia. We then lived in Papua New Guinea where I mostly grew up. My mother Alma Toomath nee Cuttabut who taught me Aboriginal art grew up on the mission of Carrolup and Roulston near Bunbury. I met her for the first time in 1994; I was 33-years-old.

What is your medium of choice? 

I use hot poker burning to do all the outlines on thick canvas paper so as not to burn through the paper. It is delicate work with temperature control and a steady movement of the hand. The colours I use are applied with pastel pencils where I initially use to colour within the outlines and then rub it in the canvas paper creating a layering effect and depth.

I use hot poker because of the burning aspect which helps me to identify with the land because of bush fires in the cycle of life. I like smelling the land after a bush fire and to see the green shoots spring up in new life.

What are the most significant themes of your work?

As an Indigenous man, spirit and country are constantly reflected in my work to give honour to my Creator Spirit. The birds are a sign of the Spirit moving through the land with fire to get rid of old things and bring in new life.

How does your work express how you see God?

My calling and gift is to use Aboriginal art as an expression of God who is as a father to me in my life journey throughout the land and the spiritual interaction of spirit, land and myself.

The positioning of myself as an artist is not central in my work, but rather a conduit of something bigger for the Spirit to flow through.

What do you consider to be your most significant artwork?

I have been doing art since 1994 and done various projects such as exhibitions, book covers for textbooks, postcards, art lectures and so on. Most of my work is in storage now but my biggest work is called “Life journey” done in 2004 and on display at the Chinchilla Art Gallery in 2009 which again uses spirit, land and myself on the journey.

I also make and burn my own picture frames so as to add to the art piece rather than contain it in a finite position. At this point of time I have scaled back my work to an A2 size and continue to use a hot poker for future works.

Alma Toomath nee Cuttabut was one of the child artists at Carrolup Native Settlement, Katanning Western Australia in the 1940s. The internationally acclaimed collection was recently discovered at Colgate University in the USA. Read about the distinctive landscape tradition of the Carrolup School at japingkaaboriginalart.com/articles/carrolup-school

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