Standing in a coloured land with Desert Designs artist Jedda-Daisy Culley

On the eve of her next exhibition we visit sweet Jedda in her stunning Sydney beachside apartment. We discover the beauty of her artwork and learn about the background behind her unique clothing brand.

There is a long a beautiful story behind the Desert Designs brand co founded by your father, Steve Culley and artist Jimmy Pike. How did it all begin? 

My dad was teaching art in a maximum-security prison in Fremantle W.A. He met Jimmy in one of his art classes and was instantly in ore of his talent. He and Jimmy became great friends, they taught each other; dad showed Jimmy how to use contemporary materials and Jimmy introduced dad to his culture. Dad likes to say they “were kindred spirits when it came to colour” and I love to think that people can build a friendship based on a love for colour. I developed my sensitivity for colour from both dad and Jimmy. Jimmy liked to work with high frequency texta pens as the colours reflected that of his desert country. Dad was exhibiting Jimmy’s drawings and felt he needed to develop the texta pen drawings into screen prints, as he was unsure of the works archival nature. As the story goes he left some screens around the house and my mum printed up some fabric and made me a pair of dungarees for my first birthday. I guess you could say the brand begun naturally.

What made you want to revive the story so many years on & what relevance do you feel it has today?

I was completing my MFA and begun to ask my dad more frequently about his experiences working with Jimmy and the things he had learnt whilst working in desert communities. I became aware that I was referencing his stories within my art theory practice and begun to draw parallels between the history of Desert Designs and my own art. I have always worked to bring about change or awareness through my art and I became inspired by the reach Desert Designs offered, by the groundswell that was gravitating around theories of nature and a homegrown approach.

When did you first pick up a paintbrush to start making your own work?

My dad is an artist and because of the companies nature I was always surrounded by artists and designers. It’s silly but I have this super cute artwork that Jimmy and I did together when I was three years old. From a young age I thought I would be a painter; I went to high school with an art scholarship and straight into art school. I never thought to consider another option, to be an artist felt natural. I remember setting up studio’s around my childhood home, spending hours working away. I don’t regret any of my decisions. I never wondered if I should have found my own path, there is no other path for me.

Outside of design and family time, you’re in the studio making incredible work of your own. Do you see this as a lovely outlet from everything else?

The various mediums I use offer two different forms of expression; weaving is mediative allowing me to deeply consider the concepts in my practice. Painting allows me to explore colour and composition through an expressive feeling for the Australian landscape.

Is your personal work is influenced by the experiences you’ve had with Indigenous Australians? Do their relationships with the land and story telling abilities inspire your own work?

I am deeply inspired by many Indigenous artists and thinkers. Desert Designs has given me the opportunity to discover Australia’s indigenous culture. I have been privileged to learn something of the intricacies of the desert landscape and the particularities of Aboriginal cosmology. Jimmyʼs visual archive is a touchstone to this world. Jimmyʼs work has provided me with a tangible gateway through which to learn about an otherwise esoteric, ancient philosophy. A concept I have developed is the idea of standing-in-the-land that conceives of the relationship between human beings and place as one where the human does not exist above or on top of the land but as part of, and living, within the land. This theory of mine is central to all my creative pursuits.

On the home front you, husband Daniel and son Lucian live in a beautiful beachside apartment in Sydney. The place feels incredibly homely, how long have you been here?

Two years now, I think… it’s hard to say because we spend so much of the year overseas. I have always been a collector of curiosities. My childhood home was full of art and travel treasures, my mum keeps things forever so a lot of my collections are owed to her, we share a passion for carpets and otherworldly sculptures.

There’s an eclectic selection of paintings adorning the walls of your home, I recognise a few paintings as yours, who else is featured?

My art collection is one of my major loves. I must admit that I owe the majority of it’s wonder to my dad, while my mum was collecting the details for decorating our home my dad was both creating and archiving works from a range of different artists. Lot’s of the work on my wall’s are by him. These works would have to be some of my most treasured pieces. They are beautiful colourist works that fill me up with a creative spirit. I know I am going to love looking at them for my whole life and one day they will hang in Lucian’s home. I have some pieces by one of my favorite indigenous artists Billy Benn his paintings of the McDonnell ranges are stunning. I am lucky to have some very talented artists as dear friends; Luke Sciberras and Tamara Dean have given me some absolutely beautiful works over the years that I adore and will treasure forever. And of course some magical works by Jimmy.

You mentioned one of your last big trips was to Greece for your intimate wedding how was this trip? What made you want to choose Greece for this romantic occasion?

We were in Greece on a small island called Hydra. We didn’t go there with the intention of getting married, Daniel was there writing and recording an album with Sebastian Tellier and John Kirby. We fell in love with the place. There are no cars on the island, donkeys were the only form of transport. I found the light, the air, the ocean and the flowers reminiscent of Western Australia; I felt at home in Greece. One day we spent the day in a boat together and found a tiny chapel alone on a rock out to sea, we both fell for it. You could only fit three people inside the chapel; we decided there and then to get married on that rock, surrounded by turquoise blue sea with our son Lucian.

I know you have spent quite some time OS the past few years – where were you based and how did this compare to Sydney?

We lived in NYC for a year and spend a good three months of every year in Europe. I loved parts of living in NYC, I loved the art galleries, the park culture and the live-wire street life. I missed the ocean, big skies and the horizon line. I believe the horizon keeps me in check. I could live in NYC again but not forever.

How important do you feel it is to travel and live abroad when you’re growing up and forming your career?

I traveled a lot as a child but not so much in my earlier adult life I was more interested in homebound adventures in the Australian landscape. My relationship with Dan has opened up an international existence for me, I don’t think travelling is so important to my career but it’s essential for his.

Jedda’s exhibition will showcase painted works at Mild Manners Gallery, Surry Hills. Opening Feb 4th.

View the catalogue HERE

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