Nathaniel Chapman is an extremely talented contemporary artist, hailing from several Indigenous clans: Goenpul of North Stradbroke, Yuggera of Brisbane City and Wambia of the Northern Territory. Many of his talents descend from the Wambia tribe’s unique artistic techniques, which are prominent in his works.
Nathaniel works with Yarn as a resident artist, and has most recently created the incredible array of t-shirt designs featured through Yarn brand, Custodian Streetwear. You can view the collection here.
This week, we had the privilege of sitting down with Nathaniel to chat about his artistic inspiration and background, and his experience working with Yarn.
Tell us about your earliest memory of drawing/painting.
“Watching my father and uncles, who are probably ten times better than me. I grew up around it. My father started a painting when I was 7 and he’s still today adding stuff to it because it's massive; all my life he’s just been adding stuff to it. I've been surrounded by art my whole life…Different styles of art too. Because, basically, where I’m from there’s all different families and they all have different styles. Like, North Stradbroke Island there are three or four tribes and all different families have different styles of art; they all vary through things like dot formations...They are hard to pull off, you’ve got to be onto it, you’ve got to know what’s going to be put on the canvas before it's there. That's what I’m going to try and master.”
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
“In school we’d have art competitions. People would come to the school and say let's have an art competition, see who can do the best piece of art and we’ll display your artwork or use it for NAIDOC to put it on flyers and stuff. Basically, I used to win every single competition.”
The link between artwork and one’s cultural identity is something that is very prominent in Indigenous art. What is your biggest inspiration when you draw and paint?
“Well there’s a lot of inspiration that comes from different areas; I do a lot of Indigenous dancing as well, I’ve done that from a young age. All of my family; my brother, my first cousins got taught by my uncles…That, and like I said, growing up with my uncles and seeing their paintings…When I first started, that’s the image I had in my head, to paint how they paint.”
Tell us more about your experiences performing as a dancer.
“When you go to a different country and they know nothing about Australia they’re so fascinated. When I went to Germany, we were like celebrities there, dancing everyday for four weeks straight….When you’re dancing on a wooden stage, and you're all stomping at the same time it has the shake; the whole room will shake too and you’ll feel the energy.”
The creative process behind the Custodian Streetwear tee designs.
Who is your favourite artist of all time?
“There are many. My great uncle, my Grandmother's brother Kevin Brunette - he's pretty famous up north (Northern Territory) for his art. One of my uncles designed the Stradbroke Barge. He’s really good that fella...All my cousins and older brother have all got his designs tattooed. His name is Lincoln Costello.”
Your latest designs for Custodian are very streetwear inspired. Is this a style that you gravitate to?
“I’m not just into Indigenous art but also tattoos; always wanted to design my own tattoos and I grew up drawing things like Dragon Ball Z. My Indigenous art is just like a mix, I believe it should evolve not just stay the same, everyone else is evolving and I think our art should be too.”
What is it like seeing your designs on clothing?
“It’s really cool, ‘cause that's something I’ve thought about for half my life. At least, to try and design touch football jerseys when I was younger. Every time I would go to design a jersey it just wouldn’t get finished…”
Rainbow Serpent Black Tees. Shop here.
What’s it like working with Yarn?
“I feel grateful because a lot of people are so grateful just to get their art out there on a shirt. They’ve got to make it themselves, and I’m lucky enough to go through this big company. It's a great way to start, perfect for me anyway.”
Do you have any hopes or plans for the future, in terms of your art?
“I do, I just want to get my art out there and a different style of it. Not just sports clothing and street clothing, I can do any kind of art. I've been talking to my partner about doing a baby line. I can pretty much do every kind of art, simple or busy….I’ve got a little girl too, she’s only 18 months. I'm just pretty much a full time Dad at the moment….Everything is for her, she’s got it in her blood too, I’ll teach her that.”
It's been wonderful to hear more about this incredibly talented Indigenous artist. We can’t wait to see more of Nathaniel’s designs featured in our upcoming collections. Stay tuned for some exciting new designs.
You can check out more of Nathaniel's art here.