Looking back with Lisa Sorbie Martin

If you ask Lisa Sorbie Martin what she’s working on right now, you’ll probably get a different answer depending on the day of the week. This prolific Gold Coast artist has wowed audiences for the last 21 years with her works across mediums as diverse as textiles, sculpture, fashion design, public works and ceramics. And she’s not done yet, recently taking out the ‘Cultural Achievement Award’ at the City’s Australia Day Awards for 2018. We caught up with the multi-talented Lisa to talk all things Indigenous art and design.

‘Place of Significance’ is Lisa’s most recent installation. It sits at the Broadwater Parklands Northern Precinct, and has an interesting story behind it. During the refurbishment of the Aquatic Centre, Aboriginal artefacts were unearthed, leading to a significant exploration of the life of Aboriginal peoples around that region.

“It was revealed that the Broadwater area was a trading route for our Aboriginal ancestors,” Lisa explains.

“’Place of Significance’ tells the story of this special place that was for our Indigenous people to trade, enjoy, fish, and have family connections.”

While Lisa is both proud and honoured to have been recognised at the City’s Australia Day Awards, it’s hard for us here at Blank to talk about Australia Day, without bringing up the push to change the date. I am curious to see what Lisa thinks about this movement. She is beautifully optimistic.

“For me to change and mark an Australia Day ‘Celebration’ Date would be a valiant step towards more of our Nation’s healing process. We as Australians have a long way to go to heal the wounds of the past and smash down attitudes of racial indifference that this would definitely be a move in the right direction for us as Aussies to continue to build for a better future for our children, grandies and generations to come.

“We first acknowledge our First Nations peoples, then bring clarity of our history and move forward, together! I do love change and as the saying goes ‘a change is as good as a holiday’ really can be reflected in our heart attitude as a Nation to have a date that truly ‘celebrates’ us together with mutual respect, understanding and resolve that’s equal to all, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Set a date so that we can enjoy a ‘holiday’ that’s worthy for us all.”

Strong connections to Culture and Country/Island form the basis of much of Lisa’s work.

“I have my foundations of inspiration, that is my family, my faith, my culture and the magnificent world we live in,” she says.

“For commissioning of art, I certainly draw from Country/Island, place, history and/or the artist brief given to me.”

The brief for one of her favourite works ‘Earth & Spirit’ – that it last 200 years – may have daunted a less experienced artist, however Lisa leaped at the challenge, creating a masterpiece from handmade ceramic pieces embedded with crystal and glass. Inspired by the poetic narrative written about First Nations people by Pope St John Paul II on his visit to Alice Springs in 1986, the breathtaking ‘Earth & Spirit’ somehow manages to be simultaneously simple and intricate, powerful and fragile. Lisa believes she’s never heard such beautiful words spoken about our First Nations peoples.

‘You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers, hills, and mountains. Through your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of man’s relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power in life greater than yourselves’. – Pope St John Paul II.

Another artistic milestone in an impressive career was ‘Stillness in Time’, a contemporary rendering of a hot pink eucalyptus tree created for the 2016 SWELL Sculpture Festival. The theme – ‘Culture and what it means to you personally’ – provided a double inspiration for Lisa.

“I am very passionate about shifting the attitude that ‘the Gold Coast has no culture’. This has been spoken for far too long and I am adamant to change this perception.

“People would often say to me, ‘you are blessed because you have a culture to be proud of’. My response: ‘We all have culture in us, culture is a foundation but it’s also living, we create culture everyday’.”

Lisa etched poignant questions into the polished stainless-steel tree trucks of the work in order to prompt its viewers to ponder culture.

“During the display of this work I had people both male and female who were so moved they expressed tears because they were on their journey of finding their ‘Culture’. To me, this is the purpose for creating art. Art is a powerful force, people need to experience something when they see my work whether it’s joy, inspiration, a shift in their heart, a challenge, a smile or even a tear of emotion (in a good way).”

Lisa’s own journey has seen her work and style evolve over the years.

“I think over the years you develop your own unique style and signature mixed with learning new skills and techniques these are extremely important to my career development,” she describes.

As you can see I love to learn new media and discover the wonders of creating in that particular genre. Art can go on anything, there is no limit to creativity.

Especially when one is skilled in so many areas. I wonder if she plays favourites with any of her mediums, but it would seem they are each as valued as the other.

“I find total enjoyment and pleasure in creating something out of nothing, for example Painting: I feel freedom when I paint from my heart. Sculpture or Public Installations: gives me much joy to create work that others interact with, love and enjoy. Textile: I feel beauty in creating. Fashion or Wearable Art: I am passionate about and love creating the textile and the garment that tells a story. Ceramics: The organic feel of clay has a significant connection to earth that is hard to explain and the excitement of seeing exquisite pieces emerge from the fiery kiln is exhilarating!

“I sense such purpose in what I create and when a story begins to unfold that’s connected intrinsically to the work I experience an outworking of my calling and gift,” she continues.

Around the time of the South Stradbroke Island Indigenous Artist Camp in 2015, Lisa turned her artistic calling into a full time job. She shares her valuable insights with us.

“When you come to a point in your life where what you are spending most of your time doing is in a place that isn’t where your gifts are, then you need to tell yourself ‘Life is too short’ to be spent on things you are not being fulfilled in. We all have gifts and talents and if we all did that for a living then I think we would be a much happier bunch of humans!”

Sound advice, indeed. With some art works for the Commonwealth Games underway, a plan to sculpt again for SWELL in the future, and a ‘Sorbie Collections’ product range in her sights, Lisa is not likely to be putting down her paintbrushes (or kiln, or sculpting tools, or materials) any time soon. And the Gold Coast arts world is certainly better off for it.

You can follow Lisa on Insta at @sorbie_collections. ‘Earth & Spirit’ can be viewed at the Burleigh Catholic Church.



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