In Conversation | Artist Niah Juella McLeod

Niah Mcleod is a contemporary Indigenous artist from Byron Bay. Her work leads viewers on a meditative process through its intricate details and tells of stories passed down from her ancestors. We visited Niah's Bangalow home to chat about her creative process, self-care rituals and favourite local spots.

Tell us about yourself

I was born on the south coast of Sydney, when I was 2 years old, I moved up north to a little town called Bangalow, just outside of Byron Bay, with my brother Zac and Mum. This is where I was lucky enough to grow up. I have now moved back here with my partner, Blake, and 2 kids, my eldest Matilda (5) and Darcy (3); they are the cheekiest but keep me very grounded.

What (or who) inspires you and your art?

I’ve always been inspired by the elements, the earth the stars the moon, showing my kids the world, their own culture, other cultures… at the moment their brains are and seeing them get excited about things and understanding things for the first time makes my heart sing.

Your pieces are so captivating and yet also magically calming. What does your creative process look like?

Thank you so much! What a beautiful compliment. My creative process changes each week. There are elements that stay the same though because we move around a lot I have to change and adapt to wherever we are. I think the bases of my paintings are probably one of the most important parts now, the colour the texture and the pattern underneath, it feeds everything else, the dots or fine lines come naturally and form their own patterns; I just go along with it. Sometimes I’ll have an idea in my head and I’'ll try to get it out onto the canvas but it will always change, and I just have to go “Ok this is where we are going” ha ha. It is extremely therapeutic to me, I’m very lucky.

What do you hope to convey by sharing your work with the world?

Ooh…. if I can open someone’s eyes up and introduce them to even a tiny piece of Indigenous culture, I would be happy with that. If these paintings can make someone stop and feel anything I think that’s pretty special.

Your proudest professional achievement to date?

It would have to be being able to raise thousands and thousands of dollars for a special family and friend with cancer. Raising thousands of dollars for firefighters and working with Fender to raise money for Children’s ground are also sitting alongside. I very reluctantly turned down a job once because I didn’t like the idea of speaking in front of a camera (it just wasn’t me) and instead was offered a job with Tiffany and Co in replace. If that doesn’t speak “follow your gut” then I don’t know what does haha! I also have some cool collaborations coming out next year that I’m really looking forward to.

You are also a working mum, how do you find balance?

My partner and I both work from home. We both tag team with the kids or if someone needs the time, it does get tricky, especially when you are both at the end of your deadlines, we pick our battles with the kids though. My partner is a film producer so his work never sleeps so we just do the best we can. Now that my daughter Matilda is older she knows not to touch them or will always ask to help but Darcy my son is a complete whirlwind and will destruct anything in his path haha. He is getting better I think, I hope. I’m still learning balance.

How do you share the gift of art with your children?

We treat it with appreciation, the kids are with me every step of the way. They see me paint, see how it feeds the soul in different ways. Whether it be me angry and upset and I just want to paint and get something out, or if I’m having a peaceful relaxing time or even if I’m rushing and something doesn’t go right and it’s not the right time and tells me to slow down or to walk away for bit. They are usually either next to me or climbing on top of me while I paint, if not they are painting next to me also. I fell pregnant with Matilda when I began painting for the first time so she has been with me the whole way, through every exhibition, art prizes you name it. She has her own passion and appreciation for art and could sit through any guided tour for any artist and be fascinated by it.

Favorite self care rituals.

I think this one is an ever-evolving thing. I think silence is needed, something that smells amazing, candles, incense anything and books. That’s my heaven.. tea and cookies included.

What do you love most about living in Byron Bay

I get asked this question quite a bit. My family and I just recently did a 3-month road trip around Australia in our caravan. To what I think are some of the most beautiful places in the world. Nothing compares to our beaches at home. Every time I come back from somewhere and come home, I think our ocean is the most beautiful in the world. The feeling it leaves you after you're in it is completely healing. I don’t know what it is and it could be because I grew up here and I might be completely biased. I have to say we also do have some of the most beautiful produce. With the volcanic soil, you can grow nearly anything and the Northern Rivers weekend markets are incredible. I grew up in a little town called Bangalow, 5 minutes in the hinterland of Byron and it has its own sent. Coming into spring it smells of star jasmine and I think those are the little things that make up why it feels like home.


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