Shal Distant Familiarity
Shaun Daniel Allen (Shal) with works from his new solo show, Distant Familiarity. Photography: China Heights Gallery.

I’LL TRY NOT to get tongue tied on ‘familiarity’,” laughs Shaun Daniel Allen, the painter who goes by ‘Shal’. “When I was writing the show title, I was like, ‘damn, I’m going to get so sick of saying that’.” But the title stuck, and now, the Yugambeh-born Bundjalung artist is busy getting ready to open his third solo show, Distant Familiarity, at Sydney’s China Heights Gallery. 

After we’ve found a place to sit down, gently dodging the ladders, paint tins and fans that are placed around the studio in a fine display of organised chaos, Shal fills us in on the theme of his show, and the sentimental value it holds.

“Distant Familiarity is basically about this one particular river bend at home, and all of the things surrounding that. It’s the place I learned to swim, where I went fishing with my grandparents, jumped off all the bridges surrounding it . . . it feeds into the sea where I surfed pretty much my entire life.” 

Shal grew up in the Gold Coast suburb of Southport, which is located not far above Surfer’s Paradise. Coming of age as a First Nations man in suburbia, he inherited a different idea of what it means to connect to Country. 

“There’s always this idea, or notion, that to be ‘on Country’ you always have to be really far out and rural. And for me that obviously wasn’t a thing, I grew up in an expanding town which is growing into a city, and I really wanted to capture that idea that country is everywhere, not just rural.” 

Colours he’s used on the works in the show, like sky blue and dusky orange, reference “the calming points of the city” such as sunsets and clear skies. “I think I painted like eight large scale works, and then we cut them up into smaller works, so every piece in the show is from a three to five metre painting,” he explains of his process. “It’s kind of like each piece is a smaller part of a bigger story, or a bigger piece.” 

Watch our full interview with Shal below. 

Distant Familiarity opens on Friday June 7 at China Heights Gallery. 


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