Thea Anamara Perkins comes from an exceptionally impressive creative family. Her mother is art curator Hetti Perkins; her sister is actor, Madeleine Madden; her grandfather is prominent Indigenous rights activist, Charles Perkins; and her aunt is renowned filmmaker, Rachel Perkins.

It was Thea’s portrait of her Aunt, Rachel Perkins, that earned her a spot in the shortlist for the 2021 Archibald Prize, marking the third year in a row she has been a finalist in the country’s most prestigious art award.

But at the root of this esteemed recognition lies a unique painting style and a strong, clear vision for the political and spiritual potency of art. Among Thea’s artistic inspirations are Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Gordon Bennett and Caravaggio – each titans in their craft. Thea’s work shivers with the ancestral connection to land and community of Kame Kngwarreye, the contrasting colour of Caravaggio and the political dynamism of Bennett.

Thea’s vivid paintings and portraits are renderings of contemporary Aboriginal life in Australia. For her first ever solo show, Shimmer, she asserts the rich and powerful joy of First Nations matriarchy, as well as its energy and light across land and memory.

‘The title is inspired by a public Arrernte women’s ceremony shared by our very senior knowledge-holder MK Turner OAM’, Thea explains. ‘The lyrics are “altyerre ayenge alhelharrke-parrkaye’ which translates to ‘I am a woman and I am shimmering.”‘ We spoke to Thea at her Sydney studio ahead of the exhibition opening.

Can you tell me a little about your creative journey so far, and how you came to be involved in art making? Do you have any early memories of this?

I’ve always naturally expressed my self through drawing. As I got older I realised the conceptual potential of art to communicate. I remember when I was quite young I cut out paper and used it to map out the halo of light around a candle in a dark room, and the shape of the light spilling onto the floor from a door that was slightly ajar. I’ve always been attuned to how light behaves, which can be beautifully articulated through shading in drawing – but particularly fascinating when explored through mixing paint and the complexities of colour science.

Are there any recurring themes present in your work?

The fallibility and shifting nature of memory, as well as its power – our experiences are so formative. What makes our connections to people and places endure. Using Western vernaculars to take authorship of First Nations representation, and using it for my own voice.

You come from a very creative family – how have they informed your practice, and your greater creative universe?

I’ve come to realise that we’re all storytellers, and if we’re not speaking our own truths, we’re supporting the voices of others. We’ve always been encouraged to think deeply and empathetically about issues, and to then take action.

What does art making mean to you – why is it important, and what do you hope to communicate?

Art-making is vital, it is a conduit for abstract ideas, distilled so that they can be comprehended. It is how we can understand ourselves and each other. I hope to transmute ineffable ideas in a clear and direct way. To always be striving for evolution.

‘Shimmer‘
Tuesday 8th June – 3rd July
Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm

N. Smith Gallery
6 Napier Street
Gadigal Country / Paddington, 2021

Artist Thea Anamara Perkins in her Sydney studio. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Thea’s emotional portraits brim with vulnerability and strength. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

She is known for her portraits of prominent First Nations figures, fusing the personal and political. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

For her first ever solo show, Shimmer, she examines what contemporary Aboriginal life in Australia with a special focus on the light and energy of matrilineal power. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

She brings the same energy to her landscapes, which vibrate with emotion. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Tent Embassy‘, 2020. Winner of the Alice Prize in 2020. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

‘Shimmer, 3’ 2021, will be on show as part of her new exhibition.

Left: ‘Christian’ was Thea’s first portrait shortlisted for the Archibald Prize, in 2019. Right: ‘Gracie’ which was included in Tarnanthi, 2019. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Light floods her Sydney studio. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

Thea has been shortlisted for the Archibald for the last three years. Photo – Alisha Gore for The Design Files.

‘Rachel‘ by Thea Perkins, shortlisted for the Archibald Prize 2021. This is a portrait of Thea’s aunt Rachel, a filmmaker in Sydney.

‘Station, 3’ by Thea Perkins.

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