Big impact made by drawing little people

June 13, 2024 BY

Country: Marlene Gilson has spent more than a decade sharing her Wadawurrung culture and history through art. Photo: JOEL CARRETT/AAP IMAGE

HAVING recently returned from seeing her work on show in the Venice Biennale’s Foreigners Everywhere program, Wadawurrung traditional owner Marlene Gilson said she’s come a long way in her short time as an exhibiting artist.

“I pinch myself all the time, saying what’s going on?” she said. “But I like drawing my little people. I sort of go to bed and dream of little people every night.”

From exhibiting on the sails of the Sydney Opera House to having her works featured in national and overseas galleries, Gordon-based Gilson can now add a Medal of the Order of Australia to her list of accomplishments.

From her first time exhibiting in 2012 displaying alongside her daughter Deanne at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Gilson said her creative output can be traced back to her family.

“I was sick years ago and needed something to do,” she said. “I had five little houses cut out that I’d painted for the kids and Deanne brought me out a canvas afterwards.

“Deanne had her exhibition at the art gallery and I had about seven little paintings I’d done for the kids and they got put in.

“That was 2012 and it’s just taken off. I didn’t think people would like my work. It’s just been something I’ve liked doing.

“My kids and grandchildren inspire me. Deanne has her painting, Tammy has her weaving, Barry has his singing and stories.”

Often depicting panoramic scenes of First Nations and colonial culture, Gilson’s Aboriginal heritage forms an integral part of her creative focus.

She was taught about her Indigenous background from her grandmother.

“We always knew about our heritage but we’d never advertise it,” she said

“I was born in Warrnambool and we used to go over these big sand dunes called Old Baldy at the beach. My grandmother would teach us patterns in the sand.

“At that age, you don’t take much notice, but when we went to the museum, I turned to Deanne and said there are the patterns nanna taught me. It all comes back to you.

“I wouldn’t be painting these stories if I didn’t know about my background.”