A Boorloo-based visual artist and designer working across textiles and fashion, Mariaan Pugh has teamed up with Martu artist Desmond Taylor to create Jila Kujarra: Two Snakes Dreaming, an exciting cross-cultural collaboration which opens at 6:30pm on Fri 12 Aug.

Taylor and Pugh have worked together to transform Taylor’s Niminjarra paintings, usually seen on canvas or paper, into highly tactile textile works, animating the important Niminjarra Jukurrpa (Dreaming).

The exhibition is the realisation of a long-held vision Taylor, a prolific painter who works with Martumili Artists. It continues the practice of cultural and creative exchange driven by the arts centre in recent years, with the intent of sharing Martu art, language, culture and stories with new national and international audiences.

First of all, can you tell us a little bit about your practice?

Absolutely, so I studied Textiles at Curtin University and then did an Advanced Diploma of Fashion & Textile Design from North Metropolitan TAFE. I primarily work in rug making, embroidery, and weaving. I’m really interested in subverting these traditional textile techniques into more contemporary and unconventional formats. My work tends to be more light-hearted and playful in style, so I’m particularly drawn to vivid colour and motifs, and highly tactile surfaces. I have a studio in Subiaco where I spend a few days a week on my practice, and I also teach fashion & textiles at North Metropolitan TAFE and The Children’s School of Contemporary Art, which I really love.

Tell me, how did the collaboration with Desmond come about?

Erin Coates (former FAC special projects coordinator) worked with Desmond for Revealed in 2018, and during that process she discovered that he wanted to work with someone to make rugs, specifically a Western Australian artist. At this point, I had already been working with rugs for five years and it was really the focus of my art practice. So Erin put me in contact with Desmond and Martumili at the end of 2018, and that’s where it all started. I travelled to Newman to meet with him in 2019 and that’s when he told me the story of Niminjarra and showed me all his paintings and then kind of told me what he wanted.

Was that the first time you’d be up to Parrngurr, where Desmond lives? What was that experience like?

Yeah, it was the first time. It was so amazing. As soon as you get off the plane it’s almost like you have this filter over your eyes because everything is just covered in red dust. It’s absolutely beautiful. He was so lovely and generous with telling me his stories and about his paintings. I felt really honoured to be there and that he made the time to meet me. I’d really love to go back up there and share some of these rug-making techniques with the Martu community as well. He’s also come down to Perth twice during this project. He’s such a busy person but always makes time to catch up. There’s been a lot of phone calls between us as well texts back and forth as the work has developed.

It must be really rewarding to work on this creative project together, and to get to know each other during the process. What has your working relationship with Desmond been like?

It’s been such a joy and privilege to work with Desmond to expand his practice into a new medium. Our working relationship has been easy and natural. He really trusts me creatively and anything I suggest he’s happy for me to do. So I guess I’ve just tried to be really conscientious of staying true to the works as much as I can in terms of colour and patterning, and checking in with him as much as possible.

How do you actually go about translating Desmond’s paintings into rugs?

I always start with studying Desmond’s paintings and trying to get a feel for them. When I first started, I realised it’s quite hard to get the finer details of the paintings into the rugs, so I simplified them a bit first. Basically, I trace the outline of the paintings first to replicate them as best I can and then I transfer that onto the fabric where I do the tufting. For the first couple of ones, I was just drawing his paintings freehand, but then I started tracing them as I felt it’s a bit more conscientious doing it this way.  Where I can, I colour match the yarn to the painting and create a colour palette for the rug, Desmond has also been happy for me to change colours where suitable.  Then I begin the process of rug making, for these works I have used a rug hook, a punch needle and a manual tufting gun. I interchange these techniques depending on the design and to create variation in textures.

Why are you so drawn to rug making? What is it about the medium that you love?

I really love the practice of rug making. I’m a highly tactile person, and yarn is definitely the most tactile medium for me. I always use a wide range of colour and textures, rug making allows me to play and experiment with both of these. It’s so satisfying to see the design come to life, thread by thread. It can take upwards of a week just to complete one rug.

Jila Kujarra: Two Snakes Dreaming opens 6:30pm, Fri 12 Aug alongside A Gentle Misinterpretation: Australian Artists and Chinoiserie and Tania Ferrier: Pop Porn. The exhibitions are then open 10am – 5pm daily until Sunday 23 October.