ARTIST, FASHION, TEXTILE DESIGNER, AUTHOR
One of Australia's foremost artists, Robyn Caughlan is as well-known for her textile designs as she is for her murals and paintings. Her versatility and extensive creative abilities have led to her being commissioned to create art works for streetscapes and development projects.
Born at Westmead in 1949, she is the 6th child of a mother descended from Darug and Darkinjung people and an Irish Catholic Father. She moved to a foster home when she was 5 and a half, attended convent schools until leaving at the age of 13.
She married at the age of 17 and had 3 children by the time she was 21. Trapped in a marriage punctuated by frequent episodes of domestic violence, it was only at the age of 30 that she became aware of her Aboriginal heritage. Discovering her Aboriginal roots helped Robyn make sense of her life.
“My art started to fill a void in me that I thought would never be filled”.
Her first exhibition (and first solo show) at the Australian Museum in 1986 launched her artistic career. She sold nine paintings and gained much acclaim for her works. Since then Robyn has had 14 solo exhibitions and over 70 group exhibitions.
Robyn has also exhibited overseas, taking her fashion designs to Egypt, Singapore and the UK (among other places) and holding her own fashion show in Milan.
Her works are now part of the collections at various museums and art galleries including the National Maritime Museum, the Powerhouse Museum and the Keraya Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland.
First exhibition, Australian Museum 1986
At her fashion show in Milan
Additionally many public institutions, such as NSW State Rail and the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre have purchased paintings to display.
Along with artists such as Norman Lindsay, Robyn is one of only ten artists featured on World Heritage Art.
Robyn has been commissioned to paint close to 20 murals and billboard signs across Sydney and has also been featured in media press, magazines and radio.
Nominated for Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 1990 and 1991, Robyn has exhibited at the Sydney Opera House, the National Maritime Museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, local and regional galleries (at the request of various councils), art centres and many private galleries.
One of six artists chosen to exhibit at 'The Native Insitute' exhibition at Blacktown Art Gallery, Robyn was delighted when the Australia Council bought one of her artworks, Mother and Child, to be given to the recipient of the Ros Bower Award. This exhibition is currently touring throughout Australia. Robyn was also interviewed on NITV SBS news regarding the exhibition.
With Dawn Fraser
“I love finding creative ways of getting my expressions across about my spirituality, my aboriginal background and, of course, the heritage of our land."
Robyn’s key strength is her versatility. One art form which has garnered her some of her biggest accolades has been her painted textiles. Robyn hand-paints gowns she has designed and, since 1994, her creations have graced the catwalks of Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss Teen Australia, Miss Earth Australia and Asian World Supermodel. Three of the gowns she designed won awards and one is now housed (along with her Aboriginal wedding dress) in the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.
In 2013, Robyn was honoured at the Miss Teen Australia National Competition for her contributions over the previous years. Many of her gowns are inspired by the beautiful Australian landscape and contain Aboriginal motifs.
Her designs have been shown in Helsinki, Petersburg and Dubai, and at the World Fashion Show, held in honour of the Sydney Olympics. (Robyn was an organiser of this event.)
Her designs have also been shown at the Mercedes Fashion Week Australia and she has been commissioned to create gowns for celebrities such as Darlene Johnson (who wore one to the Emmy Awards). In 2009, Robyn won the Deadly Awards for the Deadliest Dress and was a finalist for this award in 2010.
Her works appear in the collections of many private individuals including (but not limited to) former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, TV personality Sonia Kruger, Federal Politician Linda Burney, Guy Gibson, Shari and Thomas Hussein (Sudam) and Dr Candide Horace, Madagascar.
"My first big break came through Boomalli Aboriginal Artists' Co-operative when I was asked to design a gown for the Miss Universe pageant and from that I was aked to design three more so I am forever grateful."
Selected to do the National Costume for Miss Earth Australia 2012 and 2013, Robyn's gowns were also used for the National Costume to represent Australia in Asian World Supermodel.
Two of Robyn’s gowns, Aboriginal Wedding Dress and a Miss Universe gown are permanently housed at the Powerhouse Museum.
A number of her textile designs are part of Signature Prints Collection and have been used to theme three apartment buildings in Sydney, Hervey Bay and Port Douglas. The textiles are now being leveraged into a line of soft furnishings and carpets.
Robyn has been commissioned to create 20 public art projects, many of which draw on her impressive and highly original graphic design skills.
She was a leading project artist in the creation of Blacktown’s new Town Square. One of her commissions involved creating a façade work for the new Bungarribee Resource Hub for Urban Growth NSW. This project has allowed her to explore the use of new materials and techniques including working with metals. As with all her projects the capacity to work well with multidisciplinary teams including architects, engineers and landscape designers has been a strength of her work.
Robyn's life has been filled with triumph and tragedy.
After her father's death when she was almost five years old, she was moved to a foster home. Believing that she was only on holiday, the young Robyn spent hours waiting at the gate for her mother to return for her.
For much of her childhood she lived in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. She left school at 13. was married at 17 years old and the mother of three children by the time she was 21.
Having had very little contact with her birth family during this time, it was not until Robyn was 30 years old that she found out that her mother was of Darug and Darkinjung descent. This discovery helped Robyn to make sense of her life. She found inspiration in her Aboriginal roots.
She survived horrendous abuse in her marriage and extreme violence in relationships. She counts her children and grandchildren as her greatest blessing.
With Jimmy Little
A long struggle with cancer, from 2004 to 2009, severely limited her artistic goals. Then, in 2010, her oldest daughter, Vicki, had to have her right leg amputated after a trail bike accident.
Through it all she found opportunities to create, and to encourage and support other artists to blossom.
Robyn is the chairperson of the charity she set up to support her daughter, Out on a Limb with Vicki Inc. This organisation is aiming to raise funds for a new prosthetic limb for Vicki and others, to help them regain independence.
Out on a Limb with Vicki Inc.
PhD student Julia Torpey, interviewed Robyn for an an enhanced ebook., At the Heart of It... Place Stories Across Darug and Gundungurra Lands. This collection of films is not representative of a particular community organisation or ‘tribe’; it is representative of individual connection to place and history. It is available as a free download through the iTunes Bookstore for use on iPads and laptops or desktop computers running OSX Mavericks.
Robyn has signed a major deal to brand her name, art, fashion and textiles on a global level. She is very excited about getting her story and heritage out to the world. Her Memoir Waiting at the Gate was published by Magabala Press in May 2012.
Robyn is regularly asked to guest speak at events, including the Local Aboriginal Network Conference and Blacktown Arts Council. Robyn Caughlan's retrospective "I am who I am" exhibited at Fairfield City Museum from 13th September to 15th November 2014.