Inspirational Aboriginal artist, Danielle Burford, shares her creative story with FOCUS.
Tell us about your Aboriginal heritage.
I am a Wiradjuri woman from central NSW, growing up in the remote regions of Bourke, Warren and Trangie. My grandparents were very well known and respected in the central western region of country NSW. My grandfather worked across this region fencing and shearing sheep.
In order to enlist in the Army, he had to alter his age and race, as at the beginning of WWII Aboriginals were not permitted to fight in the war. He was in Bourke shearing when he received his call up.
My great grandmother was born on a mission at Collie, in Wailwan Country, 45 mins north west of Dubbo. As a young woman, she worked as a governess on Haddon Rig sheep stud near Warren.
Not much is known about my great grandmother’s family, and this is a topic that is dear to my heart and one I constantly search through history to find.
My great grandfather was a Wiradjuri man from Nyngan; he spoke his tribal language, but never passed his knowledge onto his children.
In those days it was forbidden to speak your tribal language or practice cultural beliefs, as my great grandfather’s family were, back then, living in the centre of town.
My grandfather and his brother were well known for their sporting achievements in cricket and Rugby League.
My knowledge of my culture has been passed down to me by my many family members.
Creativity is a big part of Aboriginal culture, particularly in the form of dance, storytelling and art. How has this influenced your life?
Creativity is hugely my culture; I live and breathe It every day. My art, although contemporary, keeps me connected with my elders and the land – most particularly the land that is Wiradjuri country, the land that I can feel run through me, of that I am attached! Creativity tells our stories, our dreaming, our daily activities. Creativity stores and records our life history … our culture!
Through creativity, I remember my family, both past and present. Through my creativity, my ancestors live!
Describe your style of art.
My works are Contemporary Indigenous Art – a mixture of Wiradjuri style, that consists of X-ray views of animals, skeletal structures, organs, genitalia and diet – infused with the conception of modern day, non traditional colours, constructed and formulated to depict our ancient old patterns of Australia.
You’ve said that your art is generated by two things – the dream about the topic and the nature around you. How do you draw inspiration from these things?
I have very vivid dreams. I can walk into a room or building, see a painting on the wall, and when I awaken I record every detail on paper.
From there, I recreate the image on the wall … mind you, it never ever looks like the one in my dreams, and I now believe they aren’t suppose to look alike, but to simply stimulate and inspire my creative side. Nature holds the most interesting, detailed and breathtaking patterns.
I really enjoy exploring through nature, whether at the beach looking through sand, or rock eroded over time by the power of the sea.
Nature holds so many forms, and the best inspiration of all is discovery!
Do you think that the Coffs Coast provides good inspiration for your style of art?
Definitely! The Coffs Coast is such a change from the bushlands, where I grew up … the variety of animals, plants, textures and mediums that exist, that inspire my imagination by way of the mountain range and its forest to the sandy ocean beaches and beyond! A new world of blue contains creatures unpainted by me and patterns yet to discover! I feel truly blessed to reside here on the Coffs Coast.
What mediums do you work with, and why?
I mostly paint with Matisse Acrylics on canvas. I find them easy to apply and love the rich, creamy consistency when mixed with water. Also, I think it’s wonderful that they have brought out colours named after Australia e.g. Australian Blue Gum.
Another favourite medium is Ochre bound with egg whites; I really enjoy its earthy tone and textures. I do also use other mediums in my works that imitate interesting textures, such as: beach sand, which when painted gives the look of velvet: and toilet paper, for bark or tree textures.
Tell us about some of the awards you have won for your art.
As I said earlier, I started out with the Scott’s Head Art Show in 2007, acquiring first in the Indigenous Section and Best in Show.
In 2008, I attained first place in NAIDOC Week Art Prize in Coffs Harbour with Bogong Moth; that same painting picked up People’s Choice Award.
Then in 2008, I was invited to exhibit in Tribecca, Manhattan, NYC, and I attended.
2009, I entered and attained the Clarence Valley Indigenous Art Award at the Grafton Regional Art Gallery, which included a solo exhibition in 2011, with my painting Wonambi and the Wollemi Pine – a painting depicting a focalised skeletal structure of a Wonambi (giant prehistoric snake) that lived in the mountain ranges of Australia and the not so long ago discovered Wollemi Pine, that dates back to the same time period as the Wonambi. This painting is now part of the Grafton Regional Art Gallery’s collection.
2010 brought in the attainment of the First and currently the only Saltwater Freshwater Indigenous Art Award at The Yarrawarra Cultural Centre, with my painting Unsung Heroes, which tells the story of different aspects of recognition within communities and Australia as a whole. This painting is now a part of the Wadjar Art Gallery’s collection.
2011 saw me off to La Paz, Baja California Sur, to represent Australia, exhibit and open the 6th International Festival of Arts and Culture dedicated to Australia, where I was awarded Australian Cultural Ambassador by the governor of La Paz.
What is Stories and Songs, and how are you involved?
Stories and Songs of the People is an inter-national Indigenous collaboration that brings together cultural presentations and ways of expression through the arts, music, storytelling and dance. Through this collaboration, Stories and Songs of the People facilitates the sharing of cultural experience and knowledge, while finding commonalities and strength through Indigenous cultural practices.
As an Indigenous storyteller, through the arts, I’m able to share my experience and the experience of my Aboriginal Australian heritage at Stories and Songs of the People events, like the one at the Coffs Harbour Campus of Southern Cross University on 13 and 14 April.
How can people find out more about your work?
You can find my portfolio on my website: danielleburford.com.au
I am also on Facebook under Danielle Burford’s Art. I also permanently hang at Wadjar Art Gallery, Yarrawarra Cultural Centre, The Jaaning Tree (Contemporary Cuisine), Nambucca and Dunghutti Ngaku Indigenous Art Gallery, Kempsey.