Arkeria Rose Armstrong – Bendigo
At 30, Arkeria Rose Armstrong says she is considered “a baby in the art world,” especially in Aboriginal terms, but having grown up with a strong sense of her Aboriginal identity – who she is and where comes from – she feels blessed and excited to be able work fulltime as a painter.
Talking about her life during her exhibition “Black Soil,” at Dudley House Gallery in Bendigo, Arkeria pays homage to her parent and grandparents and the key role they’ve all played in her developing an understanding of her culture and her place as an artist within it.
“My maternal grandmother was from the Gamilaraay people of northern New South Wales. She was a very important part of my life. She was a story-teller and she had a very spiritual way of expressing herself. My paternal grandfather….he’s Yorta Yorta from Shepparton and he’s a painter. He taught me a great deal about technique. I’ve been very lucky to have had such strong support in my career.”
Arkeria was born and raised in Ceduna in South Australia, and when she was seven, her parents packed her and her younger sister into a caravan and set off on a four-year adventure travelling around Australia.
“Dad was a gold prospector and Mum was a school teacher, so she home-schooled us as we travelled. We always camped out bush and even as a child, I had an artistic response to the environment. I reckon we probably went right around Australia four times in those four years, finally ending up in Marble Bar.”
Marble Bar, located 200km south east of Port Hedland in the remote, northern Pilbara region of Western Australia, is famous for its hot desert climate. It’s known as the hottest place in Australia, and temperatures regularly exceed 45-degrees C. It has a large Aboriginal population, which Arkeria says helped her learn much more about her culture.
She attended high school in Broome and then completed a fashion degree in Sydney. But after deciding the industry was too cut-throat for her, she moved to Bendigo – but only for two months.
“I missed Broome so much I returned to Broome and spent three years working for a pearling company. I returned to Bendigo in 2007 and have been here ever since,” she says.
Arkeria had just completed a teaching degree at La Trobe University, when she was introduced to a Dutch art dealer from Rotterdam, who was interested in her artwork. He’s been her agent ever since and after her first solo exhibition in Rotterdam two years ago, she’s been selling works through galleries in Alice Springs and Kununarra in Western Australia.
She’s looking ahead to another exhibition in the Netherlands, at the same time developing her relationship with her culture and her art.
“My grandmother passed away ten years ago and it’s only now that I’m fully realising the impact she had on my life and my creativity. Painting enables me to explore a side of myself I haven’t thought about a lot until now. I’m drawing a lot on what she passed down to me and I’m expressing it through my work.”