Yorta Yorta woman Holly McLennan-Brown of Koorie Tales is an emerging contemporary Aboriginal artist who draws upon upon her rich cultural heritage and unique spiritual journey to create vibrant art pieces. Holly's profound connection to her heritage and Country has inspired her to create art not only to share the beauty of her culture, but also to educate, inspire and amplify Indigenous perspectives.
Within the gentle spirituality and vibrant colours of Holly's art runs a deep emotional current - painting for Holly is both soothing and cathartic, lending her work a rich complexity and depth as she visually traces her journey of exploration into her identity and cultural roots.
Holly's art practise has flourished exponentially in just a few short years, even garnering national attention with her sell-out print collaboration "New Beginnings" with retail giant K-mart. Inspired by the Cummeragunja Walk Off in 1939 by the Yorta Yorta people protesting against poor living conditions, the print was lauded for it's visual beauty and for bringing visibility to First Nations experiences - something Holly is immensely passionate about.
Apart from her obvious creative talent, it is Holly's generosity of spirit, desire to uplift others and infectious excitement about sharing her culture that will no doubt contribute to her continued success.
Tell us a bit about your artistic and cultural background and how you have arrived at this point in your artistic career. Have you always wanted to pursue a career as an artist?
Being an only child, my downtime was spent alone. I really loved that, I’ve always enjoyed my own company. I didn’t have to share, I was always able to do what I wanted and it was usually drawing or painting. I spent a lot of time in my teenage years sketching. It was my favourite thing to do, I’d sketch all day and night with a 2B grey-lead pencil. As I got older, I left school and started working and it took a backseat. In the spare time I did have, I started to experiment with different mediums. I was working as a hairdresser when the pandemic hit and ended up spending the last few years at home. This gave me the space and time to create and find what really spoke to me, which was acrylics.
My dad and his family are from Yorta Yorta Country, around Shepparton and Kyabram. I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne/Naarm and my dad moved home when I was a teenager. I spent a lot of time there growing up, it was my favourite place to be. My dads mother is Aboriginal, her family came from Cummeragunja before moving to Mooroopna. We have some lost history we are currently tracing down, family from Coranderrk Reserve and Taungurung Country, but I have much more seeking to do in regards to their roots. My parents are very strong people, they know who they are and they’re proud. They respect each other and each others backgrounds greatly. I was lucky to have that support and see that pride.
What were some key memories you had growing up that turned you onto a creative path?
My uncle was an outstanding artist. My nan would work on his behalf talking to galleries and networking to get his work out there. As kids she would bring us along to these meetings and I would find myself in beautiful galleries from a young age, admiring his and others work. There was so much pride for him and I really admired that, especially with art being such a personal thing. He also used acrylics on canvas so I feel connected to him when I paint in this way. My nan had an amazing sewing room filled with special drawings from all of her grandchildren, she still has it now. Some of my drawings are still there 20 years on. I loved that room, I spent so much of my time making special things for her to see them go up on those walls, I knew how much she treasured them and I felt that love really deeply. There was a deep appreciation for art in all of its forms within my family so it was more to me than just a picture, it was a feeling.
When most people think of Aboriginal art, dot paintings and ochre colours are often the first things that come to mind - though in reality it is incredibly diverse and quite specific to each artists nation and culture, with artists adopting both traditional and contemporary art methods and approaches. How would you describe your unique art style?
My style is forever evolving, the more you experiment the more it changes. I don’t like to do the same thing too many times. Evolution can be a scary thing, when you know that people like what you’re doing its daunting to move away from that, from what’s already ‘working’ for you. But as a creative, pushing yourself and your creative boundaries is important for self growth.
My art is based around symbols, along with texture and colour. Symbols navigate the story and emotion within the artwork. I love colour, especially on a black background, it speaks to me greatly, the depth it creates within a painting is beautiful. I love using texture within my work too, this can also contribute to emotion within the work, I think I’ll be gravitating more towards texture in the near future.
What is your advice for people wanting to purchase Indigenous artwork ethically and respectfully, and in a way that best benefits Aboriginal artists?
I think if you respect the work then you can’t go wrong. Ask yourself why you want this, get to know the artist and understand the artwork. There is storytelling and feeling in every Indigenous artwork, make sure that it is the right piece for your space. Make sure you’re connected to it, then you’ll be doing the piece justice. Its such a personal journey when we create something and we put a lot of trust into you when we pass it on to your home. Our hearts are laid into every stoke on the canvas, I think when someone understands the love and the gravity of that then it's a really special thing.
Your work carries a deep and gentle spirituality, with each piece carrying a meaningful message or theme as result of the inner journey that has taken place. What are some of the central themes in your work that you find yourself returning to?
A theme I’m always being brought back to when I’m painting is community. I find a lot of strength in that. I’m quite a private person and happy in my own company but it’s not always an advantage, sometimes I could be more open. Revisiting this theme is so uplifting. It keeps me grounded and reminds me of what is important, I really thrive off my community and I want to challenge myself to keep building my circle.
As a contemporary Aboriginal artist with a thriving art practice and business, is there any advice you would like to impart to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists wanting to start selling their work?
Reach out!! We are here to build each other up. We all have our own personal journey and we learn a few things along the way that we want to share, we want to learn from you too. We have the same common interest and goal at the end of the day and we want to see you flourish. Don’t be afraid to ask. The more Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander businesses out there the better!
What is the most constant source of inspiration for you creatively?
Easily our country. Our country has so much to offer and it is so healing. My journey has always been one of spirituality and healing. Country keeps me grounded and really reminds me of what is important in life and what is important to me. It’s somewhere I feel excited to explore both physically and as a pathway to my mental space.
If there was one thing you would want your audience to take away from your art, what would it be?
I originally made my art page to share with my family and friends, it was a big step for me because I’m not someone who is very confident putting myself out there. Being in the hair salon I noticed so many people engaging with me about my culture, my history and my work after following my page. This was really eye opening to me, it opened up conversation. That is such a powerful thing and I think that became my purpose, sharing the beauty of my culture and opening up conversations that might not be had before. If I could inspire just one more person to learn something, support someone or engage in new conversations then that’s all I could ask for because that energy spreads.
Tell us a bit about your creative process when approaching a new piece – do you have an organised method that you have perfected, or do you just go with the flow whenever inspiration strikes?
Most of my work is through feeling, it generally starts from an emotive place. I am also often planning my next piece while painting my current one, sometimes I'll play with new techniques, textures or colour and I’m inspired, I know that I'll expand on those small elements in my next piece if its not something that will fit into what I’m currently working on.
In the space of a few short years your art practice has flourished, boasting some high-profile projects such as the sell-out success of your Kmart art print New Beginnings, and a lovely collab with jewellery designer Erin.K. What would be your dream project or collaboration for Koorie Tales?
I love a good collaboration, I’m really open to anything! I love seeing artists collaborate together so that’s something I'd love to do one day if it fits. I really admire Lowell Hunter from Salty One, he does incredible collaborations. That would definitely be a dream for me.
What’s on the cards for the rest of 2022 for Koorie Tales? Do you have any exciting projects or exhibitions in the works?
This year the goal is to be working on my own designs and projects, to keep my time flexible. I also want to build my online store. Finally being covid free now, I want to spend more time on country and in community so that’s my goal for the year.
- Philippa C -
Awesome service. Very quick turn around, no fuss. Thanks!