Frances Belle Parker in her studio in Maclean
Frances Belle Parker in her studio in Maclean Adam Hourigan

CLARENCE+ Frances tells her story

Balancing family and working life is never easy, particularly if part of your working life is as a practising artist.

Frances Belle Parker is a Yaegl woman and mother of two who works in a variety of mediums including painting, printmaking and installation. The majority of her work is based around her personal connection to the Yaegl landscape in the Clarence Valley, particularly the river and Ulgundahi Island where her mother grew up.

 

Minty Green Floaty Islands Collaborative Design 100% Silk Scarf $100. A collaborative design by both Dyinda Frances and Dyinda Jessica, representing Ulgundahi Island, located within Biirrinba (Clarence River). Also available in Dusty Pink.
Minty Green Floaty Islands Collaborative Design 100% Silk Scarf $100. A collaborative design by both Dyinda Frances and Dyinda Jessica, representing Ulgundahi Island, located within Biirrinba (Clarence River). Also available in Dusty Pink.

Frances got her arts career off to flying start at aged 18 by being the youngest and first Aboriginal artist to win the prestigious Blake Prize for Religious Art in 2000, but the road that followed certainly hasn't been paved with gold. It's been rewarding journey for her but a lot of hard work along the way.

With two arts degrees and international residencies behind her, Frances' works can been seen in a many different places, from public art installations to the sails of the Sydney Opera House, to art gallery collections and tea towels.

 

It's been constant, steady work for the artist, but she said this year had been a pinnacle moment in her career.

"It's been the first time in 19 years that I've actually been able to make a living from art. For the first six months I didn't have to have another job and I could actually survive off just off my arts practice.

"My art is one of main sources of income, so I've been lucky enough to prioritise it lately."

Frances said she had worked on a lot of projects recently, including public art commissions and licensed projects that included selling the rights to reproduce her designs.

Locally her work can be seen at the Maclean Riverside precinct, her imagery featured on the footpath and as well as in some of the engraved totems in the park's Yarning Circle.

Her time has also recently been stretched to include running a small business called Dyinda Designs, she and her cousin, artist Jessica Birk, set up.

'Dyinda' meaning sister in Yaygirr, defined their kinship and inspired the 'sisters' to design objects that celebrated their connection to Yaegl country and make their art more accessible.

The stylish and colourful Limited Edition designs are featured on a range of beautiful and functional items including table linen, cushions, gift cards and silk scarves, all made with love in Yaegl country.

Needless to say the products have been a hit, which is great, but Frances says it involved a lot more work than she anticipated.

The Magpie design tea towel features a collection of magpies, its image reflects the distinct shape of Ulgundahi Island (a significant site to the Yaegl people in the Clarence River), Frances' way of acknowledging her Country.

"It has been really positively received but having the time to invest into it properly is hard. We are still finding out feet and there's a lot more work involved than just creating the products. Updating the website, social media, the admin side of it is the hardest part. I think I definitely need a PA. Even doing stocktake and things like that. I'm getting a friend in to help with that. They're all the little things you don't think of when you say 'yes' to being part of another little business."

But she is not slowing down any time soon.

Having just gone back to 'regular' work two days a week in health "for a change of environment" the busy artist has a few new projects in the pipeline over the coming months.

She recently installed her ground-breaking 10,000 peg installation piece Mapping Ulgundahi for Idle Work, a group exhibition in Lismore and Dyinda Designs is planning to be at the next South East Aboriginal Arts Markets at Carriageworks in Sydney in November.

She is also currently working on collaborative piece with local artist Cass Samms for the upcoming 53 Islands Festival.

"We've been mapping the river and I've produced the designs for a select number of islands. The work will be printed on huge pieces of fabric and on display at the Grafton Regional Gallery during the festival."

Of course Frances Belle Parker's work isn't only visually appealing, it tell stories contained within this Clarence Valley landscape, stories that have shaped her as Yaegl woman, an artist, and as a mother.

"This is my history, my story and it will always be my responsibility to share this knowledge through my art."

 

 

Find Frances Belle Parker in the new Northern Rivers Creative directory www.northernriverscreative.com.au or on Facebook. Visit Dyinda Designs www.dyindadesigns.com.au