Debbie Taylor-Worley investigates powerful femininity in today’s patriarchal society, creating artwork based on primordial symbols used in religious and metaphysical practices that honour the sacred feminine. She draws upon the visual sources of her European and Indigenous (Gamilaraay) cultures to create compelling canvases and sculptures. Her art making is ritualistic and ceremonial in nature, connectedly imbuing natural, earth-based materials with power from the ocean, the earth and the sky.
Taylor-Worley is currently a Doctoral of Visual Art candidate at Griffith University. In 2018 she won the Redlands Art Award and in 2020 was the recipient of the Windmill Trust Scholarship.
Do you remember when you first became interested in creating art?
When I was in 2nd class in primary school, (around 6-7 years of age) a class mate, Karen Gonzales, showed me how to draw a human body that wasn’t a stick figure. Only problem was I got into trouble for adding nipples and labia.
Then in 5th grade, my teacher, Mr Smith told me “draw what you see, not what you think you see.” I won a drawing competition later in the year, and chose a book on Vincent Van Gogh as my prize. I wanted to paint like him.
Was there anyone in your life who inspired you to become an artist?
Not really. Neither mum or dad were artistic, but we did have a Readers Digest series of art books stashed in the hallway cupboard. I would spend hours lying on the floor in the hallway looking through them. Mum used to make all our clothes, and she taught me how to knit and sew. I’ve always enjoyed the process of making.
Where do you draw Inspiration from and what does your creative process look like?
Inspiration is a constant state of receptivity. However my principle inspiration is from Mother Earth herself, and the energy that she emits. I’m also interested in the metaphysical practices of the ancients that knew how to harness this power. Thus much of my art making process is ceremonial in nature. I work in and near bodies of water, either the ocean or Gomeroi waterways, using the water, the land, ochres, clay and plant fibres found close by, to create my canvasses. I also am inspired by the resilience, strength and sacredness of the feminine spirit, which informs my clay sculptures.
Do you have a favourite medium to work with?
I have a love/hate relationship with clay. I love it as a material; the feel, the malleability, the meditative process of building and carving, and the infinite creative possibilities. However, clay’s unpredictability, whilst at times exciting, can also be disappointingly problematic at times.
Are there any mediums that you haven’t explored yet, but would like to?
I’ve recently been learning how to weave using natural materials and exploring ways to incorporate it into my clay and canvas works. However, I would really like to be a better photographer. Recently I’ve been to some spectacular places, but all my photos look like “happy holiday snaps”.
Do you feel your cultural background impacts your work? If so, can you tell us more about this?
It absolutely does. My Gamilaraay heritage informs all that I do. I am descended from the Gamilaraay, and from a family that were some of the first colonisers in Gamilaraay country. I straddle this dichotomy with difficulty and regret. I’ve had to decolonise my own ways of knowing, doing and being. Much of my work employs the principle of Wanangi-li, which is a deep contemplative thinking, listening and feeling, of country, employing the bina (ears) mubil (stomach), the Gii (heart) and Dhuwii (soul).
What do you hope people take away from your work?
I hope it moves them to critique the European, patriarchal narrative about this nation’s history. I hope they come to see First Nations people as valuable and much needed, original caretakers of this country, and humbly learn the lessons they have to teach.
Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
I’m half way through a Doctoral project. It’s about decolonising the historical narratives about women on the colonial frontier, focusing on the relationships between Yinarr (Gamilaroi women) and Wadjin (white women). It’s a new body of work, and for the moment is still under wraps!
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Do what you love doing, don’t compare yourself to others. And never turn down an opportunity that comes your way. If you’re not sure you can do it, say yes anyway, find out how, and make it work.
“In Identity, Debbie Taylor-Worley utilises primordial symbols used in religious and metaphysical practices that honour the sacred feminine, drawing upon the visual motifs of her European and Gamilaraay heritages. She believes the motifs of ancient metaphysical practices, introduced to the contemporary consciousness in the form of contemporary art, can hold the key to healing humanity’s relationship with each other and the Earth. “Identity” is a combination of fingerprint and topographical mapping, and rendered in such a way as to recall Gamilaraay ceremonial dendroglyphs or tree carvings.”
“‘MaEternity’ portrays the eternal mother, the earth, which continues to sustain and nurture. Standing proudly, her body is adorned with carvings based on Gamilaraay dendroglyphs, signifying her strong connection to country and ceremony. She demonstrates the strength and resilience of the divine feminine, here posture reminiscent of neolithic goddess figurines.”
Yellow Rock (2020)
Carving contours of country, watercolour, pigment and pastel on paper
“The concept of country is integral to Indigenous identity. Yellow Rock, Nundle, NSW, is a special place that connects me to my family and Gamilaraay roots. The Gamilaraay are re-known for their carving tradition, particularly the ceremonial tree carvings or dendroglyphs. In this artwork I mimic these carved forms. The design is based on the topographical contours of the landscape. Mother Earth has carved ceremonial markings on her own body.
This work was a finalist in the 2020 Elaine Bermingham National Watercolour Prize in Landscape Painting.”
For sales or requests, please contact Debbie at email@example.com
Facebook Page: Debbie Taylor (Worley)