Digby Moran is a big guy. It's not hard to imagine him as a travelling tent boxer, or a cane-cutter, or any of the other rough-and-tumble jobs he's held down in a long career that's culminated in him becoming known as one of the greatest Aboriginal artists of his era.
After studying art at Ballina TAFE, he had his work selected in successive National Aboriginal and Islander Art Awards in Darwin and other galleries nationally. From there it was a short step to international sucess, with exhibitions across Germany and Austria.
A favourite in Northern Rivers galleries and at such iconic events as the Coraki Art Prize, he's been selected as a finalist in the $40,000 Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Prize for two works, Starlight and Someone's Always Watching You.
Arts consultant and former regional arts officer for the Northern Rivers, Lois Randall, regards Digby as a clear favourite whose work "marks the start of a whole new chapter for contemporary Bundjalung art".
Digby credits his success to a growing spirituality, intrinsic to his identity as a Bundjalung man.
It emerges in his latest works, which centre around traditional Bundjalung motifs. They're just been taken down after a long-running solo show at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery in Ballina - Bundjalung Dreaming.
"This exhibition has meant a lot to me," Digby said. "Artists from Melbourne and Sydney have told me how strong the works are. That's a big boost for me and it only makes me stronger. This would be the best part of my career, because the works speak for themselves. They're that strong. People can feel stuff in the actual paintings.
"They're feeling a spiritual connection - it's in my family. We are strong believers in our culture, our spirituality. The stuff coming through me into my paintings is very special for me."
Digby said that this latest, most powerful phase of his career was kick-started after viewing three rare Bundjalung clubs from the 1850s; one of which bore a distinctive carved diamond pattern.
"It made me realise I've been seeing diamond patterns all my life… in the mud flats, in the sand, scarred into the trees," Digby said. "These diamonds are very strong in our culture."
The Scene ventured that this sounded very much like the 'golden spiral' and Fibonacci sequences, suggested by quantum physics and scholars of antiquity like Galileo, who wrote that the symmetry of patterns in nature correspond to the mathematical language of structural physics.
"Exactly!" grinned Digby. "It represents something very strong. When I was growing up my old grandfather used to make a lot of walking sticks and boomerangs. I watched him burning those designs on them - that influenced me a lot but it didn't start till later in life and now all that strong cultural stuff is starting to come out in me."
At the top of his career, Digby has put international exhibitions on hold while he focuses on his traditional influences and allows them to surface in his works.
"Everything's coming to a head now, when I paint I don't think of colour or anything like that, it just comes from within me, I just sit down there. This is the most powerful work I've done. It's very important for me as an artist and for my culture to get this stuff out."
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