As part of his studies at the Queensland College of Art, Dylan Mooney recently had the chance to paint alongside one of his heroes, Archibald Prize-winning artist Ben Quilty.

The incredible opportunity came during a field trip to the Garma Festival in East Arnhem Land, Australia’s largest Indigenous cultural gathering.

‘I learned so much’

Not only did the Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art (CAIA) student work with Quilty on a large-scale mural at the festival, the artwork also included Dylan’s portrait, painted by the renowned artist.

A Yuibera man and Torres Strait Islander, Dylan said he learned a lot from watching the older artist at work.

“It was an unreal experience,” he said.

“I also do portraiture, but this was the first time anyone has painted me.

“It was great watching Ben work – I learned a lot about working fast and staying loose.”

Dylan also took on the role of mentor during his stay in Arnhem Land, where he created a mural with local Yolngu children.

“Making those connections and building relationships in rural communities is fantastic – it gives those kids a pathway if they want to pursue art,” he said.

Making cultural connections

Dr Bianca Beetson

Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art Program Director Dr Bianca Beetson took several students to the festival after being invited to participate by the Yothu Yindi Foundation.

“It’s the kind of festival where anything can happen,” she said.

“Trips like this are such an important part of the student’s learning experience. It was brilliant to work with the local kids, who are so strong in their culture.

“Our students also got to collaborate with artists, meet gallery directors and showcase their work to an international arts audience.”

Dr Beetson said CAIA is planning to return to the Garma Festival next year to run a children’s art program, and hopes to collaborate with Ben Quilty on a community-based project.

“To work with a high profile artist like Ben is an amazing opportunity,” she said.

“He’s very supportive of young, Indigenous artists and its great for our students to see that those support networks exist.”

A young artist on the rise

Dylan’s work is also featured in a new exhibition at the State Library of Queensland.

Spoken: celebrating Queensland languages is a thought-provoking exhibition about the survival and revival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

Dylan contributed two large framed shields, entitled Away from Country.

“I still can’t believe that I have my work displayed in a state institution, it means so much to me,” he said.