Thea Perkins speaks through her work

Kirk Page, The Koori Mail, 24 Feb 2021

'The kind of art that resonates with me is where people have an effective way of interpreting something. For me that is the job and the forum of an artist, to work with an idea and to try and distil it.'


Thea Anamara Perkins is an Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman with an emerging painting and installation practice. Thea was raised in Sydney and has family ties to the Redfern community. Thea has worked across a broad range of community projects and is an active member of SEED a not for profit indigenous youth led organisation for climate change.


Thea's first solo show ‘History House’ 2018 was inspired by her families photographic archives and in the same year she was a lead artist participating in the restoration of the iconic 40,000 Years mural outside of Redfern train station.


In 2019 her second solo ‘Anamara’ at Our Neon Foe was a finalist in the Archibald Prize and the Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship. Since 2018 Thea has been working with Tangentyere artists and exhibited in the 2019 TARNANTHI at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Thea was a finalist in the 2020 Alice Prize and is one of Carriageworks ‘Clothing Store’ artist residence working and creating for her next major exhibition later this year.


Thea is articulate and thoughtful when she speaks about her practice and family. She has inherited the strength, magnetism and youthful wisdom guided and perhaps inspired by her matriarchal lineage which she speaks about with fond regard and pride.


It’s no surprise that Thea has this incredible persona - the granddaughter of the late Charles Perkins she creates work that honours those from our past and brings a very personal and delightful impact to all that she does.


Perkins studied painting and photography at UNSWAD UNSW Art + Design and her practice has been informed by her role as studio assistant to Christian Thompson Jonathan Jones and Tony Albert - three highly successful visual artists carving out names for themselves in the contemporary art world globally.


‘I’ve always drawn and painted and it’s always been a natural way for me to express myself and as I got a bit older I also realised the power that art can have as a tool’, Thea said.


Over generations artists have used their art as a weapon exposing hard truths and asking us to see things from a different perspective refocusing our experiences for an audience to think deeply about our history and who we are.


‘It’s an interesting thing because there is such a legacy there and I feel like we all stand on the shoulders of giants - especially the younger generation. I think the thing that really inspires me was seeing how one person along with many others have worked together to cause change. It’s really is hard sometimes when there is so much stacked against our people in many ways but it’s amazing to see that through hard work we do have agency and even through small steps or a small action, that it can have a ripple effect towards change,’ Thea says.


In the small studio space where Thea is currently set up there are many paintings and photographs across walls standing upright on easels, images of Arrente country - landscapes of her Grandfathers country with layers painted over layers of various scale and colours with the light exposing the last hours of the day or tones of pink dusks with orange and purple.


‘When I was up there last it was nice seeing the way that people will often paint a story over and over again it’s that thing of reiteration perhaps. So this is kind of an extension of that and at the moment it has my attention. This work is about a place in Alice Springs called the telegraph station - it’s where poppy Perkins was born. It was also the home for the young children of mixed heritage. My grandfather spent the early part of his life there during the time when children were being removed from their families - my pop was fortunate to have had his grandmother there who was a cook on site at the station during that time. This place is also the reason Alice Springs got its name as there was a little spring here,’ Thea said pointing to an image she describes as fast and loose but with potential.


Thea is making the most of the time in the studio space which she shares with several other artists. All around the room drafts of her works of different scale and design are strewn around the beautifully lit studio space where the constant shapes of passing trains set a comforting tempo as they move past the window below.


‘It’s really important I think for all creatives to have that focused space where you can come to that isn’t your garage or lounge room. It’s great to have a place dedicated to your practice where you show up and you can think clearly and solely about the work - painting can be quiet studio heavy and a solitary experience - so it’s really nice to be in a studio where I can talk with like minded community who I might not cross paths with usually and have discussions and be a part of the Carriage Works hub,’ Thea said.


Working at your own pace as an artist and following your instincts can lead to creative satisfaction and It’s vital that our artists get the opportunity to develop their craft in a supported space where creative brains can dream, experiment and play.


‘I am led by compulsion and intuition or an image that has a certain gravitas or power or a pull for me - I’ll start painting then get to see what is underpinning it. I might mot even understand what’s there to start or why I am doing it in the first place. I have been working with a lot of our families archives - a collection of old photos. Looking into memory and family connections and culture - all of these things flow through it. I’m happy to go with the flow and follow my compulsions and to continue to develop my expression and through consistent practice refining my style,’ Thea said.


‘It’s about taking charge of representation - I find that painting is a very simple and direct way of communicating things that I want to say. I am also interested in colour science and composition. The kind of art that resinates with me is where people have an effective way of interpreting something. For me that is the job and the forum of an artist to work with an idea and to try to distill it. I am interested in having or creating an intervention - what makes the jump into an art work, this is very interesting to me,’ Thea said.