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Karla Dickens, Wiradjuri painter, was born in Sydney in 1967. Dickens enrolled in Life Drawing classes at high school where the female form was her main subject matter. She began her formal training as an artist when she enrolled at the National Art School in Darlinghurst, Sydney in 1991, obtaining a Fine Arts Diploma in 1993 and a Bachelor in Fine Arts in 2000.

After moving to Wollombi in the Hunter Valley, NSW Dickens says her work became “more detailed with a stronger Indigenous feel.” She also says that her work at this time was about finding “more acceptance with my sexuality”. Following the death of a close friend in 1997 crosses began appearing as motifs within her paintings and in 2000 Dickens began incorporating text into her work. Her work in 2003 changed dramatically when Dickens began beading onto painted canvasses, a strong contrast of fresh mark making and fine textured detail. Her inspirations as stated in a 2007 interview with the author are “politics, love, sex and the environment”.

Dickens has shown in many solo and group exhibitions including:

  • “The Art of Place” at Old Parliament House, Canberra in 1998
  • “Co-Existence” at Hogarth Galleries, Sydney in 1998
  • “Love Magic” at S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney for Perspecta 1999
  • “Aboriginal Ways of Knowing” at the Macy Gallery, Columbia University, USA in 2001
  • “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” at the Tin Sheds Gallery, University of Sydney in 2003
  • “Nice Coloured Dolls”, 24HR Art, Darwin, Northern Territory in 2004
  • “Our Spirit Our Country – Bundjalung Art Award” and “Chrysalis” both at Lismore Regional Art Gallery in 2006.

In his article, “Where Eagles Hover” (Artlink, Volume 18, No 1) Maurice O’Riordan writes of Dickens’ work in her 1997 solo exhibition “Jowalbinna” (home of the ancient ones), “Dickens’ paintings show that the spirituality powering Aboriginal art is well and truly alive. In her series’ title painting, Jowalbinna, a host of ‘mother earth’ deities dominates the shelters and the full moon nightscape of Dickens’ passage to them. A wedge-tailed eagle hovers above a footprint, coming to signify the hovering circle of eagles over the Guugu-yalanji people’s historic handover ceremony at the nearby Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival that year”. O’Riordan continues, “for brevity’s sake, it is not possible to detail all of the works in “Jowalbinna”. Each one celebrates a dream-like revelation through country whose spiritual and natural heritage can only inspire profound awe and respect. There’s a kind of magic in the way that Dickens connects with this country, though she was, like a tourist, experiencing it for the first time.”

Dickens had a residency in Brewarrina in 1995 where she worked with 10 local children on a 16-metre mural. In 1997 she was the artist in residence at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Sydney and spent three months in Cape York, Queensland. In 1998 she had a two-month residency in Guardella, Italy. In 2006 Dickens was the recipient of the Bundjalung Art Award and the People’s Choice Award for her work in the “Our Spirit, Our Country” exhibition.

Author: Tess Allas, Dictionary of Australian Artists Online