On FLY’s recent trip around the Australian outback, she discovered numerous indigenous artists, musicians, filmmakers, authors…and was introduced to just such an artist – RHUBEE NEALE.  Sister/cousin to the acclaimed actor and filmmaker, Trisha Penangke (Total Control, True Colours, Redfern Now), Rhubee performs her original music, telling her stories of her life, culture and history, and she brings all this to her stunning contemporary abstract art as well. Below is one of FLY’s favourite paintings, probably because it shows the country in all its colour and glory.Based in Yulara, close to Uluru, the big red rock which is the spiritual centre for so many indigenous Australians, Rhubee and FLY were not able to connect in person but thanks to great internet connectivity, conversations continue and Rhubee graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her art….

What was your first inspiration to pick up a paintbrush and create pictures of the country and how do you describe your own personal style of painting?  I learned to paint by observation, it was first-hand instruction; then it was watching what I do, then doing what I do, style from family at first then I began to make up my own little stories using my imagination of the world around me. Families paintbrush their old stories; that could be funny, scary, and serious about survival, rules of behaviour, and kinship relationships with people, animals, and everything around us – life skills and protocols.  I cannot remember what age when I started drawing in the sand, as it has always been a part of me. All I can remember is that I felt loved, safe and warm laying in my mother’s (mum and her sisters’) lap as they drew and told stories in the sand. I can still hear their voices and smell the aroma of the gum tree and red desert soil. I enjoy the feeling of sand, mud and ochre on my hands.  I grew up watching aunties and uncles, sisters, cousins and grandparents drawing in the sand and then painting on their bodies for ceremonies, as well as painting on different objects such as necklaces. I mostly painted with sticks and hands/fingers. I fell in love with paint and paintbrush when I went to western school. My style has evolved over the years, firstly my dreaming dot style – I sold my first one in 1999, then in the 2000s, I started painting fictional land spaces that I called my paradise places. The hero of these paintings was based on childhood memories combined with imagination such as my favourite gum trees, ranges, dry and running creeks and riverbeds. And now I am embarking on a Contemporary art journey. Did you study art in college or have a mentor who helped you hone your skills and attain your vision?  I became aware of the abstract from watching my sister, Letty Scott, paint and my cousin, Patricia Morton Thomas, showing me the artworks of others.  I undertook some study at Deakin University where my Lecturer, artist Phillip Doggett-Williams ran sessions on various artists, styles and eras – I really connect with surrealism…Wow!! Opening my mind, I fell in love with this contemporary art.  Watching my sister Letty, an amazing abstract artist, and cousin Patricia Morton Thomas’ painting also inspired me.Contemporary Indigenous artwork embraces different styles of painting in the extraordinary Aboriginal culture. The unique styles are tied to certain significant parts of the artist’s land, kinship or totem – each work tells its own story. Do you focus on that specific style?  Although my current contemporary paintings are not my dreaming stories, they are unique original artworks, embedding aspects of culture, belonging to a country, ancestors, history and life experience growing up in two worlds and seeing the world from bush to city and knowing where I come from and belong. I paint shapes, symbols, figures, landscapes of fictional beautiful imagery places. You’ve enjoyed popularity through exhibitions in galleries across the country as well as online exposure. What was the most significant event that boosted your success in the Australian art world?  The “I am Woman” is the first exhibition organized by Rowena Brown of Glenelg Art Gallery in South Australia where I introduced the public to this now-contemporary art style I am currently undertaking which will be running again in 2023. I promote my art on social media and have been interviewed on the radio.

Were you affected by Covid lockdown/isolation, or did you use that time to focus on your work and creativity?  I think the lockdown was when I truly embraced abstract art. It gave me a way to keep a healthy mind by painting and breathing. I had the headspace and time to deal with everything in creativity, with the madness of the world outside my home, certainty this is the time that I truly had – it was unreal, like a bad movie of the world’s end playing out everywhere.   My canvas and paints gave me an escape from the stresses of world out there and I could bring back some logic and centre myself to process all the thoughts, feelings and information. (Below is one of Rhubee’s paintings completed during Covid isolation)Next year, 2023, you have an exciting show in Adelaide. Can you tell us about that and if you’re creating any new works specifically for the South Australian exhibition?  I am so excited about 2023, working with Rowena Brown of Glenelg Art Gallery who has organized for my art to be exhibited in the next I am Woman exhibition as part of the Fringe Festival 2023. I will highlight the current works as well as create some new artwork.

You come from a creative family – your cousin, Trisha, is a brilliant actress and filmmaker – are there any other artists in your family?  There are many family members that are creative. My cousin Trisha, whom culturally I call sister, because our mothers are sisters and all their children then call each other brother or sister, not cousins. There are so many families who write, act, paint, sing, etc. My biggest influences have been Trisha, Letty, Linda, Mum Patsy, Mum Janie, Mum Lucy, my children and grandchildren, Uncle Clifford possum and so many more.

Do you have any advice or a message for emerging artists who wish to share their stories and visions with the rest of the country AND the world?  My advice is to go for it, don’t worry about what others say, hear what they say then go paint what you want.  It might not be what the world will accept now, but eventually, you will still shine. Always paint from your heart and don’t judge yourself harshly.  If you just let the paint brush go where it wants to, you will step back to look at an amazing finished artwork and see aspects and stories unfolding that will jump out to be seen.  Have fun and love the creative process.  My dream and number one on my bucket list is to travel, sing and exhibit overseas. Don’t limit yourself to one form, embrace your online precedence and products.   Be brave and strong and follow your dream too.

Currently, Rhubee has a number of paintings on display in Sails in the Desert, an exclusive hotel property which is part of the Ayres Rock Resort and next door to where FLY stayed during her 2 day visit in August.  You can follow Rhubee on social media but better still, visit her at the Sails in the Desert hotel gallery or next year at the Glenelg Gallery in the beach-side suburb of Adelaide, SA (check their website noted earlier for dates and details).FLY hopes to meet Rhubee in person on her next flying visit – maybe to the Glenelg Gallery in 2023!