Passion is behind Cassandra Halden’s work, and she hopes those who view her paintings recognise and share the emotion.
“I want people to feel goose bumps,” she says. “Every time I paint I want to inspire a sense that the person looking, for example, at my flower painting has joined me in my walk on country. “And with each painting I think about the emotional effect. “I want people to feel the heart of the art.”
Perth had the chance to do just that in November at this year’s Ngurra Nyingu (We Are From This Country) Art Exhibition, sponsored by Woodside for the ninth year. It was held at Woodside Plaza and she was one of 40 West Pilbara artists featured. Cassandra is a Yindjibarndi woman who counts Allery Sandy – a Yindjibarndi Elder and well-known artist in her own right – as a strong influence and guide. “Nanna Allery says you can’t tell artists what to paint – it has to come from deep within and have meaning,” Cassandra says. “All my paintings have stories about my experiences and feelings when in country as well as dreamtime stories that are passed by our Elders. “I need to understand the story properly so I feel what I am saying in my art makes sense and the person looking at my painting also feels my connection.”
Though she started painting at primary school, Cassandra says her “real” artistic journey began when she moved back home to Roebourne and attended secondary school in Karratha. “I was about 12 the first time I spent time in country, and the connection with my country and all the plant and animals gives me the energy and inspiration to paint,” she explains. Such inspirations have served her well. Since her first painting for the Roebourne Art Group, when she was in Year 11, Cassandra has gained recognition locally and internationally.
Earlier this year she was asked to paint on a hard hat. It wasn’t easy, but the result was very pleasing and Cassandra has since received an order for 20 painted hard hats from overseas. “I’m still unsure how to tackle the commissioned work,” she says. “I’m thinking of painting the same story but in different ways to reflect the fact that one story can have many meanings.” However, she confides that she could go forever without painting because unless she feels a connection she will not pick up her brush. She says she needs wirrard – a Yindjibarndi word she says means a deep feeling of spirit and connection that is emotionally powerful – before she can paint.
The Yindjibarndi people are the traditional owners of a large part of the central Pilbara stretching from the Millstream-Chichester National Park south across the Fortescue River into the Hamersley Ranges. In describing her first visit to Millstream, Cassandra recalls how it was less of a visit and more of a family gathering, with elders creating an instant connection and giving a sense of wirrard. For anybody considering buying one of her paintings, she offers the opportunity to personally share its story to create a connection to the piece that can be re-told. It’s another way Cassandra shares “the heart of the art”. “My art,” she notes, “is not just about making it look nice on a wall.”
Trunkline Q4 2016