People often ask me about my Iningai paintings. What are the paintings about? What is the inspiration behind them?
I’ll do my best to give you an answer. I appreciate your patience as I try and find the right words. You see, the answer is not simple and straightforward. It’s not something I can easily sum up in a few neat paragraphs.
To me, the answer is more like a stream of thoughts, feelings and memories – all mixed together like intermingling currents in a river. And this river has deep currents too! It’s often these deep currents that are hard to put into words. I feel like they have risen up from the past – not just my past but also the very distant past, long before I was even on this Earth.
To try and explain what I mean, let me tell you about something that happened recently – something amazing and unexpected. When it happened, a lot of things started making more sense to me. It was a revelation that I think sheds light on where my Iningai paintings “come from”.
I grew up on Iningai country. The Iningai (Yiningayi) are the indigenous people of the present-day Longreach region in Queensland. Their traditional land encompasses a territory of over 50,000 km2, stretching east to Barcaldine and north to Aramac and Muttaburra. This is the area I have always considered home. I’m sure we can all identify with the strong connections we have with the places we grew up in. I have wonderful memories of riding our motorbikes out to special places like the Thomson River – swimming, fishing, camping, exploring. I remember the beautiful sunsets (like no other I’ve ever seen) and the incredible starry skies at night. I also remember something that’s harder to describe – let’s call it “the spirit of the place” – or “the atmosphere”, “the energy”. I clearly recall how this living, breathing place had its own character, its own personality and this was something that strengthened my connection to the place. For a long time, I thought it was just because I grew up there – but a recent discovery has revealed a deeper connection with this country.
For many years (most of my life actually), I was led to believe that the Iningai people no longer existed, that they had gradually dissipated and disappeared as the settlers moved in. Of course, I should have realised that there were likely to be descendants of the Iningai still around and this was confirmed recently when I made contact with some Iningai traditional custodians who have been instrumental in preserving a significant rock art gallery on Gracevale Station (near Aramac). But the real bombshell came when the traditional custodian I was talking to revealed that the mother of my Great Grandfather, Jack, was an Iningai woman. That, of course, would make me a descendent of the Iningai as well! I still have a lot of investigation and research to do on this subject and I plan on visiting Iningai country in a few months’ time (I’ll do another blog post about it). But for now, I have to say how incredibly right this revelation feels – like a whole lot of puzzle pieces have fallen into place. To me, this explains that deep, somehow spiritual connection I have always had with Iningai country. I’ve also discovered that the Iningai are a tall people – many over 6 foot. My Great Grandfather, Jack, was tall and I am 6 foot two inches. Most of my family are relatively short which has made me wonder where my height came from. Now I think I know! Then there is the Iningai rock art which I can’t wait to visit – confirmation that the Iningai are artistic people. Yes, my connection to this place has always been strong but it feels like it’s growing stronger all the time!
So, getting back to the paintings. I consider my Iningai paintings to be a way of showing respect for this land that I call home. I also hope that the paintings will one day play a part in helping to preserve the name of the land. The paintings are a representation (or my interpretation) of the Iningai landscape. There is a geographical feel to them – a birds-eye perspective of the land. I use a lot of neutral, earthy colours to represent the country out there. Of course, the rivers and creeks are also an important part of the land. On some of the paintings you will see the meandering lines which not only represent the rivers and creeks but also the “spiritual connection” I have with this land. These are “the deeper currents” I mentioned earlier.
I consider the paintings to be contemporary in style but, by using traditional elements (sometimes dots, sometimes lines), I am attempting to also capture the past. I want to evoke the ancient, mysterious history of the land with all its stories. The landscape to me encapsulates everything about the place – its history, its beauty, my own personal stories, the deep underlying spirituality, and so on. The place speaks! And this is what I am attempting to preserve by “framing this landscape”.
For me, painting is not only a way to express myself – it is also a very meditative process. When I am painting, I spend a lot of time reflecting on things – my home, my childhood, my roots. Although I have awesome family, my childhood was a bit all over the place at times.Sometimes this can resurface. However, I find that painting helps me piece everything together, to make sense of it all. The act of painting is a healing process. It is a time to pause, reflect – and then reset.
It is also a time to reflect on the land – and this brings me to one final (but important) aspect of my paintings that I wanted to try and communicate. As I paint and think about the land, particularly Iningai country, there is often another strong feeling that I have – and that is a feeling of gratitude. What I’ve come to realise is that the land is always giving. It never takes – it just gives (like a tree that cleans the air and provides shade). I’ve realised that there is nothing we can do without our country. We cannot live without it. No wonder it’s so uplifting being in nature. As I paint and meditate on the creative works in nature, I’m reminded of the beauty of life and this brings me joy. I feel grateful for the land. It grounds me. Material wealth becomes arbitrary. I realise that we are all wealthy in a sense. Just being alive is awesome. I like the saying “gratitude is the soil in which joy thrives.” There are always going to be troubling circumstances in our lives but there are things we can do to bring us back to earth (literally!) – like spending more time in nature, taking in the beauty, being grateful. I know from experience that these things bring joy and peace.
I would like my Iningai paintings to be a reminder of this. They help me see the bigger picture and bring balance to my life. My hope is that they will do the same for others.
– Ethan-james Kotiau