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Acclaimed indigenous artist Stan ‘Yarra’ Yarramunua ditched the booze and picked up a paintbrush in 1991. He writes of his transformation in his new book 

I WAS lucky when I gave up the grog that I had something to fill the empty space left by the booze. This was another big development from my time down there in Galiamble (Men’s Alcohol and Drug Recovery Centre), one that changed my life. One of the programs Galiamble ran for the clients was an art class. A woman, Samantha, used to come to Grey St (St Kilda) and show the guys how to paint on canvas. It happened one fine day that I was mooching through the studio and stopped to look at what the clients were up to. There was a blank canvas on offer. I thought, “Stan, my friend, give it a crack.” I set to work squeezing out colours onto the palette. I rested the canvas flat on the bench top and let inspiration take over. I had no knowledge of traditional designs, had barely seen indigenous artwork before, but even without knowing, I began to create what was a true indigenous painting. 

...No one disturbed me. I filled one brush then another with colours from the tubes in a dreamy state, and my hands did the painting. I left the picture in the studio when I was finished, and it was still there the next day when Samantha returned. I happened to be there at the moment she caught sight of my picture. She picked it up in both hands, and stared at it in a puzzled way. “Whose is this?” “That one? That’s mine. Sorry if I wasted a canvas. Just fooling round.” “Stan, this is terrific. Perfect. Do you want to sell it?” “Yeah? You want to buy this?” “Yes, I do. How much do you want?” I didn’t know anything about prices. Samantha said she’d give me a hundred bucks. I thought, “She’s mad.” But I said sure. That was when my life as an artist began... 

As soon as I went to work on a canvas, I was in that state that made the world disappear. I might have wanted to flip out a picture every 20, 30 minutes but the truth was that the artist in me had a much bigger say in things than the merchant in me. I had to get the picture right. And I couldn’t paint the same picture over and over. Each one had to have something special about it. What was happening to me as an artist was what happens to all the other artists in the world, that’s my guess. I was being forced to accept a deal...

Soon the demand for my stuff was too much for me to handle. I drove to the northwest of the state in my rubbish Nissan to work something out with my uncles, aunties and cousins on Mum’s side...There was only so much I could put on show in the space on the Esplanade, so I took myself up to Queen Victoria Market. I negotiated a site with the market people. But even a site in St Kilda and another at the Queen Vic weren’t enough to get art into the hands of people who wanted it. I applied for a second site at QV, and a third. 

I was still off the booze, and I loved my new life. I was working a seven-day fortnight at Turana, but I was packed with energy. Once I was off the booze, I could hold that paintbrush for hours and hours, singing and whistling to myself. I was ready for anything. 


For complete article go to June 2 issue of The Herald Sun Digital Edition Copyright © 2018 The Herald Sun

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The Artwork – This narrative work was commissioned by the Dalgarno Institute in 2017 and is the cornerstone of our Indigenous AOD Education supplement.

Artist: Marie Ryder, an internationally acclaimed Indigenous artist, grew up at Santa Teresa (Ltyentye Apurte) community, 80 kilometres Southeast of Alice Springs with her eight younger brothers and sisters. Her mother is Therese Ryder, a highly respected illustrative and landscape artist. Marie is married to Kevin Bird Mpetyane (grandson of Ada Bird Petyarre) and lives happily in Alice Springs. 

Marie first put paint to canvas when she was in her early 20’s. As a child, she watched her mother painting, observing her techniques and from this developed her own style. Her traditional paintings are a celebration of the bush foods from Central Australia. They are highly representational using rich colours to depict her country. Her work is held in many private collections both interstate and overseas. Her work has also been represented in many group exhibitions.

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