Features/Q&A/Visual Art

Little creatures by the sea

13 March 2020

Mandy White is the first DADAA artist to participate in Sculpture by the Sea. Rosalind Appleby talks to the award winning artist about the stories behind her supernatural bush creatures.

This interview with Sculpture by the Sea artist Mandy White is told by Michelle White, in conversation with Mandy.

Rosalind Appleby: Tell us a bit about Mandy and how she became a practising artist.

Michelle White: My sister Mandy was first introduced to art about ten years ago through a DADAA workshop in Midland. Mandy was born with in intellectual disability. Our mother knew there was ‘something different’ from very early on, but she was not formally diagnosed as having a learning disability until she was 6 years old and about to start school. Last year she was also diagnosed with Autism, which, given her traits and mannerisms, made perfect sense as soon as we were told and we were amazed we hadn’t identified it earlier. Mandy’s attendance at DADAA has helped her find her place and identify as a natural artist. She loves to paint and draw and she’s very receptive to exploring new mediums. DADAA has also given her the opportunity to work alongside some incredible talented professional artists. Mandy is like a sponge when she works with new people, soaking up new ideas and techniques and applying them to her works.

Three people stand on a street behind two brightly coloured metal sculptures.
Mandy White, centre, at the launch of her public art works in Midland. With father David White and sister Michelle White. Photographer Peter Zylstra.

RA: When did Mandy first discover the medium of sculpting?

Mandy has won several awards, been included in exhibitions in Perth and Bunbury and has sold many works at Revealed. Most of these works feature her trademark bush creatures which are inspired by traditional Yamatji and Noongar stories our mother shared with us when we were young. Sadly, our mum passed away seven years ago and Mandy’s artistic interpretation of these stories is her way of keeping her memory alive. After years of success with painting and printmaking, Mandy’s art support workers at DADAA wanted to challenge her by encouraging her to try sculpture as a medium. Mandy was totally up for it… after all, what’s better than painting bush creatures? Building them! Over time Mandy has been helped to build up her skill base to take these much loved two dimensional creatures and start making clay models and then maquettes. As the public will be able to see at Sculpture in Cottesloe, these quirky creatures are even more delightful in 3D form!

Mandy was commissioned to produce three public art works for Midland Gate Shopping Centre. She has three sculptures on Cale Street. We then applied for an Arts and Culture grant to support Mandy to develop further sculptural works as we could not believe it when she was accepted to be a part of Sculptures by the Sea. From our understanding, she is the first DADAA artist to achieve this honour.

Using the maquettes as a guide and with personal guidance and oversight by Mandy, the four sculptures created for Cottesloe were fabricated by an incredible team of welders and painters from Fusion custom car workshop in Midland. 

RA: Mandy’s exhibition for Sculpture By the Sea is tucked away in some bushes at Cottesloe Beach. Where did the idea come from to make four supernatural ‘little people’ to inhabit this bush?

MW: Artists invited to take part in the annual Sculpture by the Sea event are given the opportunity to work with the event coordinators to find the most suitable placement to showcase the work. For Mandy it was pretty clear from the outset that she wanted her four bush creatures to be settled in  the bush, so the garden site selected near the surf club pathway leading to the beach was perfect. Her owl sits on a tree branch, the pick roo is poised looking over the lawns – his big eyes visible from afar, and the two abstract creatures gaze over the surf club.

Originally, much of Mandy’s work featured small goblin like figures that were her interpretation of a particular scary traditional story she was told growing up. But over time, the creatures have evolved to become more abstract, or shifted to reflect her love for animals. She has quite a menagerie of animals at home and is drawn to featuring wildlife in her work.

Mandy wanted her sculptures at Cottesloe to be friendly and fun as she was particularly wanting to make something that kids would enjoy seeing and interacting with. For some people, the little ‘supernatural’ creatures that Mandy has been so obsessed with are taboo and not to be talked about. But for Mandy, it’s about her personal connection to the mother she still pines for and a way she can also keep connected to parts of her Yamatji culture. Having grown up in Perth, not connected to our ancestral lands, Mandy clings on to whatever knowledge or story she has that is a direct memory link to her much loved and missed Mum.


RA: What are the stories of each of these creatures: Olly, Miss Pinky, Barking Owl and Kardy?

MW: Olly is inspired by spring, the height of the wildflower season, or Kambarang on the Noongar seasons calendar. This ‘woodartji’ is painted in rainbow colours because she only comes out of hiding when she can blend into the bush. Miss Pinky is Mandy’s kangaroo bush critter. Although they are bush tucker, Mandy doesn’t like eating roo because she loves them: they are friendly and cute, not food! The Barking Owl sees everything with his big meeyals (eyes). You can hear him at night and if you’re lucky you’ll see him too. Mandy is fascinated with birds. She has a giant aviary at home and enjoys visiting wildlife parks. Kardy, slang for ‘crazy thing’, is straight from Mandy’s imagination. This one hides behind trees and then jumps out to scare children.

RA: What do you hope people will experience when they come across these little people in the bush?

MW: When discussing this interview with Mandy and drafting this response, I asked her this question directly, expecting her to talk about the incredible experience she had as a Sculptures artist facilitating a bush creature making workshop with school children – which she loved.

However, this response was much better…. “I hope they think they’re fun. I’m an artist. I’m famous. Have they sold?”

Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe has been cancelled.

Pictured top: Mandy White’s work for Sculpture by the Sea: ‘Olly ,Miss Pinky, Barking Owl and Kardy’. Photo: Richard Watson.

The Sculptures by the Sea series continues with an interview with Olga Cironis.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She was co-managing editor and founding board member of Seesaw Magazine 2018 – 2023, is author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine (UK). She loves park percussion instruments.

Past Articles

  • Celebrating five years of independent journalism

    Seesaw Magazine has reached a new milestone in our quest to ignite conversation about the arts in WA. Find out how you can support us and keep courageous, professional and independent journalism alive.

  • Perth’s international organist

    Enticed from England 14 years ago by the Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Joseph Nolan’s impact on the local music scene has been significant. He chats with Rosalind Appleby about his latest overseas tour and why Perth audiences need to hear Handel’s Samson.

Read Next

  • Reading time • 10 minutesFringe World Festival
  • Carina Roberts and Gakuro Matsui in The Nutcracker How to watch ballet

    How to watch ballet

    16 November 2023

    If you’ve booked tickets to Christmas favourite The Nutcracker and you’re not sure what to expect, look no further! Rita Clarke has you covered.

    Reading time • 10 minutesDance
  • Reading time • 7 minutesMulti-arts

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio


Cleaver Street Studio