I first fell in love with Sandon’s art after seeing a piece called ‘Four Seasons’ which is on display at Molong hospital. When meeting Sandon recently, he strikes me as someone who is deeply passionate and respectful of the world around him. He is also surprisingly modest about his work. Sandon Gibbs O’Neil is an artist who was born in Orange and has spent most of life on Wiradjuri land visiting family members often. He follows his family cultural heritage of Nhunggabarra from Goodooga, NSW and currently lives in a beautiful shack amongst the gumtrees on the Hinterland of the Central Coast which is where he creates is art. His pieces I feel are both energizing and harmonizing as well as providing a sense of wonder about the amazing world we live in.
The name Burruguu meaning time of creation is an amazing name, though why do you think your Grandfather suggested this name without hesitation? How is this reflected in your work?
Thankyou! I guess it is the basis of our culture. ‘Burruguu’ is the time when everything was created on Nhunggal country and the starting point for everything. In a literal sense though – every time I paint, I am creating, I am sharing, I am learning, and I am continuing on aspects of our culture. He picked the name perfectly.
Why is art so important in Indigenous culture?
It is how we have shared stories for thousands of years and is a teaching and learning tool used across generations. It is also a way that we can continue to connect with culture. It is one aspect that hasn’t been completely lost and even through contemporary styled Aboriginal art it is a way to connect with culture and encourage a deep respect for the longer living culture in the world. For me I see it as a way to share culture with everyone and bridge a gap to start a conversation.
You have talked about your Grandfather, artist Tex Skuthorpe, and how he has inspired you – tell me more about your relationship with him and your cultural heritage?
He was and still is one of the main reasons I paint. It wasn’t until more recent years though that I realised the depth of his cultural knowledge, the talent he had and the importance of carrying on the knowledge for future generations. He has always been a role model and a caring grandfather who may have been one of the best golfers I’ve played with and had some of the best yarns. He never had a bad word to say about anyone and had a great way of looking at life. He always said that if you hold knowledge you have a responsibility to share it and that is what I hope to continue to do. I will never be able to share half as much as he could of about our land and culture, but I do hope to continue on his legacy in some way. The main thing I take from getting to know him more is that respect for everything was a part of all aspects of our culture and something that I believe was one of his main traits.
Tell me more about the visit to Alice Springs to spend time with him and at what point did you have the epiphany to start painting as your career?
I visited Alice Springs back in 2014 as he had been living and working there. When he was younger, he spent a bit of time on the land there and learnt some of the culture in that area. Through work and connections with community he also gained some stories and knowledge. It was amazing to hear the stories of the land surrounding us and to see the land and hear the story alongside it made so much sense – you could actually see the story within the land.
I was inspired then but more so when I was studying at university. I realised I was putting so much time aside for ‘western education’ and with my Grandfather being one of the lecturers also I realised I had so much about my culture that I should be learning. I just wish I started earlier.
Is there a story you have learnt from your culture that you really love? Does it carry through into all of your creations?
I love all of them and the way that each person can interpret them differently and pick different values and meanings out – just like an artwork. But my favourite is ‘How The Sky Was Built’’ because it is the first one I went through with in detail with my Grandfather. There are some symbols and designs which I just use when painting traditional stories but the connection to the land and representing it definitely carries through into every single one of my creations.
I never use the word dreamtime as I feel it is a western word used for all of the Aboriginal culture and stories across the nation. Every Aboriginal nation across Australia would have a different word for the ‘dreamtime’ and ours is Burruguu. There isn’t a particular story that goes across all artworks. In addition to the story mentioned before I love painting the Warrambul (the Milky Way) as it is a place where all people and Ancestors who have passed live on.
Is there a unique style that sets you apart from other Indigenous artists?
My work is different to many Aboriginal Artists and there are some styles that are specific to specific areas. My use of diamonds in traditional stories and certain symbols are ones I have learnt from my Grandfather.
My husband and I have engaged you for a commission to celebrate our 10th anniversary and we are excited to see our piece!
Explain the process of commissioning a work through you?
Thank you for the opportunity to create a piece for you and happy anniversary – I hope you both love it. Check out my website for more info around commissions. This year commission spaces are full and I have quite the waiting list building for next year. If you are interested jump on the website and fill out the commissions form as I plan on sending out some further information in a month or so. Commission spots for 2021 will be extremely limited.
What has inspired you while you have been working on our piece?
It has been amazing creating this artwork. Firstly, my culture and the land is the number one inspiration. For your painting though I was able to gain inspiration from a range of places – meeting you and visiting your home allowed me to get a feel for the space and get to know you. The wonderful stories you shared alongside what you would like represented in the piece and some colour inspo. I hope next year to have more experiences like this one where I am able to engage with each customer commissioning a piece on a more personal level and hopefully document more of the painting process to share alongside the artwork at the end.
Do you have an exhibition coming up? If so, where will this be?
I don’t – I don’t have time haha! I have been so busy completing commissions which has been awesome but it has also meant I haven’t had a lot of time to create originals or hold an exhibition. I did have one earlier this year but due to Covid-19 I was unable to hold it as planned. However, I ran it on Country and was able to sell my artworks through my website which I really enjoyed. Might be the way of the future and I definitely I plan on another online exhibition next year so keep an eye out!