by Lynn S. Schwebach
Dots are everywhere in Western Australian art galleries—sort of like having a dizzy spell and seeing stars.
Okay not every painting consists of dots, but so many do that you realize they have to mean something important to indigenous painters. I had the opportunity to ask an artist connected to the Balladong and Whadjuk clans of Noongar country from southwest WA why she uses dots in her artworks.
She told me to imagine myself looking down out of an airplane window and seeing geographic markings. “That specific spot, or dot could be the place I once visited with my dad,” she said pointing down with her index finger and peering over it as if actually on an airplane.
Traveling and family mean a lot to Loo. She remembers when she was a kid and her father packed the car with the barbie (grill for Americans) and sausages, and going to explore both the Australian bush and the Western Australian coast. She and her husband Bruce still take trips around Australia, and also to other countries, such as America, Bali, and Singapore. She said she takes in everything when she travels, including the trees, colors, birds, shapes, and smells. Dots, she emphasized, always lead her back home.
I met Loo at True Blue Gallery in Fremantle, (also called Freo) a port city and suburb of Perth. I stayed in Fremantle in January and February of 2019, and went to the Fremantle Markets every weekend—where True Blue is located. Browsing the aboriginal art lining the gallery’s walls one Friday, I noticed some particularly bright, richly painted acrylics. There were lots of dots and a few with turtles. The owner of the gallery who recognized me because of my weekly visits told me the artist, Linda Loo, would be in the gallery on Saturday greeting people, and she invited me to come back and meet her.
On Saturdays in January, the market—also called “Markets”— is crowded and hot. January reminded me of July in the United States. It is summer vacation for children, meaning that it’s time for Australians to travel. People packed the Markets building.
Taking place Friday through Sunday, the market is in a Victorian building built in 1897. It is one of only two surviving municipal market buildings in Western Australia, and one of the few in Australia that continues to be used for its original purpose.
On a day when the outside temperature soared to the mid 90s, it felt well over 100 degrees inside as Loo and I stood toward the back of the gallery chatting. We both wiped beads of sweat from our faces, but the smile never left Loos face. She felt uneasy talking about herself yet excited to share her love of putting dots on canvas.
She started painting 13 years ago while hospitalized for depression and anxiety. Her doctor noticed her ability and affinity for art during art therapy sessions, and he encouraged her to pursue this creative outlet after leaving the hospital.
But Loo turned this outlet into a passion. She told me that her depression made her desperately sick and discovering this new occupation saved her. As soon as she wakes, she starts painting. Her husband makes breakfast and lunch, allowing her to focus.
She told me that simply running her fingers over the dots in her paintings gives her an emotional journey—spiritually connecting her story to others. She knows other people suffer as she did, and she hopes that through her art she can get others to grow and heal.
I asked her why some of her paintings include turtles. “They remind me to slow down and remember why I’m here, and I hope they remind others as well.”
Before becoming a full-time artist, she worked as an aboriginal engagement officer and also in finance. She has only taken two rather “unorganized” art classes. She is largely a self-taught artist.
At this point, Linda was ready to stop talking about herself, so she handed me off to her husband Bruce who had walked into the gallery. I sat down with him at a coffee bar and asked for a large glass of water. I asked Bruce about Linda’s journey and painting. He shook his head, saying, “it saved her life.”
Then he took out his dot-covered wallet. “She paints everything and anything she can get her hands on,” he said laughing.
We sat and talked for a bit about the aboriginal art and indigenous clans and what areas they inhabit, and I knew that I had some research to do because this is information that you don’t get in traditional, Western art history classes. I scribbled a ton of notes before returning to the gallery to take in more of the turtle-dot paintings. I went back to the markets and True Blue every weekend during my stay in Fremantle, finding an inner sense of direction, and knowing that my own dots would soon take me home.
To visit my Etsy shop, go to Schwebach Arts on Etsy.
To visit my fine art website, go to Schwebach Arts.
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