Considering Australian indigenous art usually straddles the space between history and tradition, it’s unusual for an artist who veers off this track to be recognised by global dignitaries.
Actually, there’s a pronounced decline in the general appetite for indigenous art of traditional accent, led by a vast oversupply of work, a simple change in fashions, the deteriorating public image of remote communities and the demise of old artists from the founding generations – not to mention a flagging economy.
And when the art galleries’ hold on traditional indigenous works loosened due to the above factors, a range of urban players like Brooke Andrews and Warwick Thornton came on the scene, immortalising their culture in a more edgy and political context that has remained in vogue.
However, none of this applies to Danielle Mate Sullivan. The self-possessed mother of three is a Fine Arts graduate and frankly, paints what she pleases (and sometimes, what you’d like her to paint). Capital cities, exotic landscapes and Sub-saharan natives have all been the subjects of her avid strokes, brought to life by abundant colours, firm fluid lines and gentle smatterings of dot work that softly reference her heritage without shouting it from the roof.
Traditionally, Aboriginal art uses symbols to identify and convey meaning and stories of the Dreamtime, particularly people sitting, sand hills, rain, shields, spears, honey ants, animal tracks, emu, bush tucker, boomerang, kangaroo tracks, waterholes, meeting places, campsite, digging sticks, women, men and persons, among others.
With its global subjects and modern techniques, why is Sullivan’s style such a departure from the distinctive ways of other prolific and often famous indigenous artists?
“Well firstly, I am an urban woman, who grew up in the city,” she sparkles in an exasperated glow when questioned about her ‘unorthodox’ style ( (Sullivan’s grandmother is a Kunja woman from the Cunnamulla region, while her mother is from Brewarrina in South Western Queensland. Sullivan grew up in Camden, NSW). “Yes, I don’t use obvious cross-hatching or other visual cues you immediately associate with Aboriginal art, but that is precisely what brings everyone together. Everyone can relate to something – or reference something that is entirely global.”
It is this transcendent appeal that led to a personalised black cockatoo painting by Sullivan to have pride of place in US President Obama’s private collection – although the centred confidence came later.
“If it wasn’t for Shane this wouldn’t have happened”, concedes Sullivan quietly about her husband, who has lovingly (albeit determinedly) pushed his wife out of her comfort zone when he saw her marketplace potential.
“Danielle’s works were always selling like hotcakes at the Rocks”, he remembers. “When some US Embassy staff from Canberra walked past our stall and did a double-take, we stayed in touch and I made the call to pay them a visit in in the capital city on a trip home from Thredbo…” he recounts with a lively signature glint.
Despite Sullivan’s initial protestations, the family’s bold visit proved fruitful, with the artist being selected to be a part of a private Presidential store during his last Australian visit (resulting in that fortuitous library display), a flow-on personalised gift to Ellen Degeneres and a private wine label design for the USA Ambassador to Australia.
Sullivan has also created custom football jerseys for both the Cronulla Sharks and Penrith Panthers for the Close The Gap round and has a mural on the iconic Little Sandy Bridge steps in Camden, not far from where she grew up.
“People are always thanking me for brightening up those steps”, she smiles. The community she cherishes is also brightened by her other contibutions, namely the conduction of workshops for local children, empowering them to discover their own creative voices.
“My aim is to help kids break out of stereotypes about who they are or what Aboriginal art should be. It’s great to see them have a play and forge their own identity… I think we definitely have some future contemporary artists in the group!”
It is this powerful bridging quality that creates immediate mateship and solidarity in the instant take up of her works. The softly referenced indigenous style brings the subject home to Australia, while the themes of natural beauty and all her kingdoms are both global and escapist. In short, Sullivan’s artworks make you smile.
2016 will ensure that Danielle’s reach will venture far beyond her Aussie backyard. This month sees Sullivan attend the San Diego Art Fair to display her own interpretation of the San Diego skyline (a city to which she has only been to once), a large-scale tender for a local Council and other top secret submissions (no doubt to celebrities and Government officials) all while she remains busy with commissions from both private and corporate clients. A commercial line, DJ Mate, is already firing on all cylinders, with investor quality prints on canvas, greeting cards and cotton rags making ideal signature gifts. Her original “Number 1” works under the Danielle Mate Sullivan name are set to launch to the collector market for a record price.
While Sullivan has been a professional artist since her youth, something entirely heartfelt overwhelms your judgement when you witness one of her creations for the first time at scale. It is unexplainable, irrational and subjective, transcending any notions of what you ‘like’ or what you perceive Aboriginal art to be.
She’s under the radar, yet with friends in high places, this Mate is set to becoming the our most wanted and in demand Aboriginal artist globally. Watch this space.
Find out more at www.djmate.com.au.