Thea Anamara Perkins

Laura Barry, Inside Out, 8 Jul 2021

For Arrernte and Kalkadoon artist Thea Anamara Perkins, creative expression and activism is in her blood. Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins is her grandfather, art curator Hetti Perkins is her mother, and acclaimed film director and screen writer Rachel Perkins just so happens to be her aunt. “We’ve always been encouraged to stand up and speak out, but on our own terms and in our own way,” says Thea. “Art is my way of expressing myself. I think it can powerfully express complex ideas and change people’s minds. I had always drawn, and I see painting as an extension of that – with the joys of colour science mixed in.”


Born and raised in Sydney with ties to the Redfern community, 29-year-old Thea engages with her locale through her painting and installation practice, and was one of the artists who helped restore the iconic 40,000 Years mural on Lawson Street. “It was wonderful to invigorate such a significant artwork in such an important place for Sydney’s First Nations history. You could tell how loved it was by locals, who would stop to share their personal connections to its different facets while we painted it,” says Thea, who won the Australia Council’s Dreaming Award for emerging First Nations artists in 2020, and is a 2021 Archibald Prize finalist. “It was a profound honour to be recognised, and a huge encouragement to be given the resources and support to realise my project,” she says of the first gong. “My aspiration is to make good work – to distil abstract ideas and communicate them with coherency. I want to always be pushing myself and evolving.” Thea’s delicate portraits and landscapes depict authentic representations of First Nations people.


Tactile and soothing, her creations are imbued with such life, it feels as though you could reach out and touch the memory itself. Unsurprising, given the personal connection the artist has with her subjects – often family members painted from her own photographic archives. “I paint things that I have a connection to, and images that have magnetism for me,” she explains. “I hope to imbue these ineffable qualities in a clear and direct form. I’m constantly absorbing influences and thinking, so I’ll be filtering information and experiences from my daily life, which find their way into my work. Mparntwe [Alice Springs] is a very important place for me, and being on country really restores my creative energies – it’s sublimely beautiful and extremely harsh.”


When in Sydney, Thea paints at her Carriageworks studio, a dedicated space to focus on her medium and inspiration. “We stand on the shoulders of giants as First Nations people,” she says. “I am influenced by so many artists, supporters and mentors. Some of my favourites are Emily Kam Ngwarray, Gordon Bennett and Caravaggio. I seek to articulate the contemporary experience of our ancient culture... to represent my people in their boldness, beauty and brilliance.”