We Talk to Yarn Partner Artist Nathaniel Chapman about his NAIDOC 2022 Painting ‘Empower’

Nathaniel Chapman’s NAIDOC2022 ‘Empower’ artwork.

Nathaniel Chapman’s NAIDOC2022 ‘Empower’ artwork. Courtesy of Yarn, 2022.

As many of you may know, talented contemporary artist and proud Goenpul/Yuggera man Nathaniel Chapman is onboard for a second year as an artist for Yarn’s NAIDOC 2022 collection!

For the last year, Chapman has been working with Yarn as a resident artist, designing for our inhouse streetwear brand Custodian Streetwear. 

Recently, we had the pleasure of yarning with Nathaniel Chapman about his artistic techniques and style, as well as the meaning behind his NAIDOC 2022 painting, Empower.

What is the meaning behind Empower?

“Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! are empowering words deserving of a powerful artwork. This year the elements in my artwork are strongly based on Mob uniting. 

Uniting Mob is something First Nations people of this Country are very familiar with. As we have proven throughout history, we will always stand together as one to protect our cultural significance and keep it thriving for the next generations. We continue to come together and stand strong, even when we’re told not to. As a young Indigenous man, without my cultural identity I am nothing.”

Describe the elements in your painting and what they represent. 

“In the centre is a fist which represents Mob; it represents Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! There’s a heart right behind the fist that represents passion and pride. The sun represents everyone under the same sun. Then, you’ll see gathering circles all around the outside, which is people coming from different towns…coming together as one group and marching together.

The background that I’ve chosen…is a smokey effect…of up north, as if you’re looking [birds eye view] at the desert.”

Describe the creative process of your digital artwork Empower. 

“I just started by doing draft after draft. I did whatever popped into my head, without thinking too much about it. Then, I went through all my ideas and picked out what I liked the most, and what connected to the story.”

Nathaniel Chapman repping his 2021 ‘Podium’ Custodian Streetwear designs.

Nathaniel Chapman repping his 2021 ‘Podium’ Custodian Streetwear designs. Courtesy of Yarn, 2022.

The digitisation of First Nations art is on the rise, how do you feel about this?

“I love it; I love seeing Aboriginal art showing up everywhere in my news feed; I love seeing it show up in the communities; up on the walls in shopping centres. It’s everywhere now! When I was younger, it was never like this. Only people from overseas would pay big money for Aboriginal art. It’s recognised a lot more now in Australia.

It takes a lot of authenticity away from the natural paint to canvas, but I think it’s cool that we’re able to create an artwork on an iPad, on a computer without even touching a paint brush. We should be evolving with everyone else, and not just stay in the same place…It’s getting Indigenous artwork out there easier…and more efficiently.” 

Is there a specific colour palette you like to work within, and is it reflective of your culture and country?

“I’m an earth-tone type of guy…I always go with the theme of land. But, with these NAIDOC designs, I aimed for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag colours…because…it not only looks great, but it represents everyone - the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

How does it feel seeing more of your designs across Yarn’s ranges of clothing, accessories and homewares?

“For me to succeed with having multiple products online with my art, it’s an honour. It gets overwhelming sometimes, but I love it. I want to keep doing it, and it makes me want to keep bettering my art and stepping up a level each time something gets released.” 

Cassie Appo Hauparua, Jasmin Link, Tyler-Ray Cotter and Boysie Power wearing Nathaniel Chapman’s NAIDOC 2021 ‘Cultural Healing’ collection.

Cassie Appo Hauparua, Jasmin Link, Tyler-Ray Cotter and Boysie Power wearing Nathaniel Chapman’s NAIDOC 2021 ‘Cultural Healing’ collection. Courtesy of Yarn, 2022.

How are you continuing to develop your artistic skills?

“I’m doing a graphic design course. So far the course has taught me what the process is from the moment I pass a piece of artwork over [to the product development team]. It’s given me a better understanding of computers overall and product development, as well as working with different colour palettes. Most of all, I love the fact that we can put an unreal piece of art together in a matter of hours instead of days/weeks.”

What advice do you have for artists experiencing a creative block?

“You don’t want to overwork your brain, you don’t want to give up; you might get halfway through your artwork and feel like it’s not going the way you want it to, but you don’t give up, you keep going and finish it. I guarantee you, you’ll change your mind.”

…A lot of artists think, oh it’s gotta be perfect and symmetrical. No, paint with your heart; paint blindly and paint moderately.” 

What kind of space do you like to work in when you sketch and paint?

“I like to work with my favourite music on…I like to be in a space where I have peace and quiet where I can just focus.”

What advice do you have to give young aspiring Indigenous artists?

“Don’t give up on your art, even if you doubt it, just keep practising and trying because you will get better…you need to just let your mind run wild with it. Don’t worry about being a perfectionist.”

We hope you have enjoyed this insight from Nathaniel. If you want to learn more about Nathaniel and his incredible works, check out our previous interview with him about his inspiration and design process for Yarn’s NAIDOC 2022 collection here.

You can shop the NAIDOC 2022 Collection here.

You can also check out Nathaniel’s bold, graphic designs on his Yarn artist’s profile here and on Custodian Streetwear’s Instagram account here.