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Otis Hope Carey’s new exhibition opens tonight at China Heights Gallery

Indigenous Australian artist and surfer, Otis Hope Carey, has long been captivated by the ocean. "I think a lot of people forget how important the ocean, and ... water in general, is to us humans," he explains. Our conversation takes place in the lead-up to his new exhibition at Sydney's China Heights Gallery, where he is putting the finishing touches on some 31 detailed line paintings before the September 6 launch. Ngiinda Darrundang Gaagal (meaning I thank the ocean), was conceived by Carey to be an homage to the big blue where he himself has spent so much of his time, and whose ebbs and flows have provided healing when needed most. "I went through a really dark stage in my life where I had really severe depression, and I was spending a lot of time at the ocean. I could physically feel it giving me energy, and it would lift me up. That's a big part of why I wanted to pay a bit of homage back to the ocean."

How long does it take you to complete one of your works?
Well with this show I actually freed up my hand a bit, so to me the lines aren’t as clean. I wanted to take a step back from being such a perfectionist and take a bit of pressure off myself in the way that I paint. But in saying that, it’s still really intricate and full of detail. Depending on the size of the artwork, let’s say 1m x 1.5m, it would take me about four days straight at about eight hours a day painting.

How do you feel that freeing up your hand has translated into these works in the show?
The smaller works are a lot more loose ... and they aren’t straight, but the bigger the work gets the cleaner the lines get. That was my way of hiding a little message to myself saying that we all grow, and in these paintings it’s my way of telling myself that it's OK to grow and go through a hard time. At the end of it you’re a beautiful person either way, and the biggest artwork that I have in the show is basically my way of looking at myself.

"My inspiration is from my culture, and there is just so much cultural information that is just never ending."

"It’s therapeutic for me, it’s hard to explain but it’s quite empowering as well. When I come out of a big day of painting I feel really energised and ready to do what I have to do."

You recently completed a commissioned work for the Hemsworth family (Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky). How did that come about?
I have a good friend of mine that lives in Byron Bay who is actually the foreman on Chris’s house that he’s building. Chris had seen one of my artworks in my buddy’s house, so that’s where it all stemmed from.

How did it feel to get recognised by someone with such a public platform?
It’s cool, I don’t really paint to get that sort of attention I just like to paint to share. I’m really proud of myself to have that opportunity and I’m really grateful and thankful to paint that mural for Chris and his family, but I just like to share things. I’m all about sharing my culture and just breaking down layers, it’s sort of what I do.

How do you hope others feel when they see this new exhibition and see your new works?
I don’t know ... I just want people to feel good and to walk away from it feeling like a better person, because behind closed doors that’s really the reason why I started painting. To become a better person and grow as a human. 

Are there any places around the world that you find inspiring for you and your practice?
Out in Uluru. I have been out there three times, and every time I go out there I feel so full of colour. I don’t know what it is, it’s hard to explain, but it’s just such a beautiful place. I absolutely love it out there.

What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
I have been really busy painting these works so it will be nice to just slow down a little bit now and hang out with the family, do a bit more surfing, fishing and cuddle my family a bit more.