The threads of history that define artist Thea Anamara Perkins and her work shimmer with power and potency.
It's hard to ignore a surname like Perkins. As much as I think it's important to focus on the artist and their work - in any profile - and then their family and biography, the influence that Thea Anamara Perkins' kin have had on generations of Indigenous artists and First Nations communities is so profound that it warrants priority. The granddaughter of pivotal Indigenous activist Charles Perkins, the daughter of the eminent Indigenous curator Hetti Perkins, and niece of acclaimed director Rachel Perkins, Perkins is right among some of the people that have defined how we think about Indigenous politics and art making.
An Arrernte and Kalkadoon artist, Perkins is a painter who says painting "was always a natural way for me to express myself". Also interested in the various histories that compose any single image, she tells me "I find the technical side [of painting] endlessly fascinating, but also the many threads of history that lead to an image. I see art as a forum of ideas - where difficult, abstract and complex concepts can be expressed. It can communicate intangibles."
She frequently delves into family history in her art making, using her family's photographic archive as source material for some of her paintings. In her painting Tent Embassy, which won The Alice Prize in 2020, she has used acrylic on clay board to depict a cherished family photo that was taken of Charles Perkins standing alongside a young Rachel Perkins during a land rights protest outside of Old Parliament House in Canberra. The painting is simultaneously tender and highly charged politically, demonstrating how much justice and land right for Indigenous peoples was a part of their family and personal life. It also suggests a generational transmission from father, to daughter, and then to granddaughter/niece of the will to stand up for Indigenous rights.
Speaking of the role of family history and memory in her paintings, Perkins says, "I think it's important to speak from personal experience where possible, so exploring family history was a way to do that - and by extension touch on universal themes and events. Memory is a fallible yet powerful agent, as a connector and means to understand ourselves. It exerts force in the painting process and is in constant flux."
Perkins also finds herself being influenced by other painters such as the luminary Emily Kame
Kngwarreye, who she tells me she is awed by, particular the dynamism of Kngwarreye and her
"erudite brush transmuting dreamings and culture onto canvas." She also tells me that
"Gordon Bennett was a big influence in the incisive way he broke down the overarching paradigms of what it was to be First Nations, and articulated alternatives."
Recently Perkins has been working on a series of paintings that are moonlight abstractions, due to exhibit in a solo exhibition with her representative gallery N.Smith Gallery, Sydney from 14 September to 1 October. Perkins is concerned with the aesthetic quality of shimmer in her latest works. Talking of this shimmer, she says, "It is a continuation of my exploration of shimmer, which has become an allusion to the dreaming. Not only is it a beautiful phenomenon, but light can be experienced everywhere - it is contiguous and omnipresent. Pwarrtyeme meaning to shine in Arrernte extends this to contemplate the transmission of light."
There is a quality of light in painting that conveys a certain historical potency and the potency of Indigenous relations to Country that transcend the limitations of the canvas and the place of art in the gallery. Perkins works with showing us glimpses of this light or shimmer in her art.