Gold Coast artist Leeton Lee is gaining recognition for his artworks and also, more recently, for his work connecting young people to their Indigenous culture. The Dunghutti / Bundjalung man recently collaborated with Jacaru Australia, a sub-licensee of MATEVENTS, who will produce a leather outback hat of his design for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games (GC2018). This collaboration is another feather in the hat of the Tamborine Mountain artist whose painting Bunya Nut Festival was recently exhibited in the NSW Parliament House as a finalist of the 2016 Max Solutions National Indigenous Art Competition. We spoke with Leeton prior to his week-long residency at Helensvale in February.
How did the Jacaru Partnership come about?
Marcus Dehring from Jacaru Australia and I met at a “Meet the Buyer” meet up for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Marcus was impressed with what I was doing and we decided to go to the next step and collaborate on a project for the Games.
What attracts you to Glow in the Dark and 3D paintings?
I wanted to find a point of difference, something that was not common in contemporary Indigenous artwork exhibited. I like the idea that my painting can be seen in the dark.
In pursuit of that point of difference I began to explore working in 3D as well and a technique evolved that works for me and 98% of people tell me that have never seen anything like. It takes my artwork to a whole new level.
What is your artistic background?
I don’t have an artistic background. I married my wife Cat in 2012 and we went to Stradbroke Island for our honeymoon. We visited the local art gallery and loved the Indigenous Art we saw but it was way beyond our price range so I thought why couldn’t I learn to do that myself… Later in that year I had to have spinal surgery which meant I would be lying idle for four to six months, and that didn’t sit well with me. We still thought about the paintings in the Stradbroke Island Gallery, I saw this as an opportunity to paint so I asked a cousin if he could teach me. I spent about six months with him, listening, learning and developing story lines into paintings. I started making sense of my culture, my passion ignited and my work drew a following and demand.
Why is it important to you to revitalise Indigenous Culture and have it continue for future generations?
As I see it, it comes down to two things, identity and confidence for our people, young and old. People feel comfortable and confident when they can visibly see where they come from. They begin to understand and acknowledge their culture through story.
Did someone instill that desire in you growing up or is this something that you have come to on your own?
I guess my spinal surgery created the space for reflection and enabled me to draw on some skills that had grown naturally in me from childhood. We moved around when I was young, I grew up moving between the city and the bush. In the bush our shelter was sheets of iron on log stumps, an old car battery provided electricity. I remember the freedom of running, playing and hunting in the bush with my siblings it felt natural and organic for me.
There were two pivotal points that I remember triggered a latent desire to find out more about my culture, our story. Firstly I felt connected when I danced with an Indigenous dance group back in high school and, secondly, I had children which caused me to ask myself “What do I have to teach my children?”
Leeton will be holding an exhibition at Helensvale Cultural Centre from 13 – 17 February and at the Scenic Rim Open Studios, Tamborine Mountain Showgrounds on 6 and 7 May.