Born in 1962, Maria Josette Orsto was the first female Tiwi artist to become an official member of Tiwi Design, one of the oldest Aboriginal art centres in Australia. She is the daughter of renowned Tiwi artists Declan Apuatimi and Jean Baptiste Apuatimi. She works across a range of media including ochre and acrylic on canvas and paper, printmaking, batik and wood sculpture.
Orsto has exhibited widely since holding her first solo exhibition at AGOG Gallery, Canberra in 1990.
The Ochre she uses for her paintings is collected by the men in the community. Then it is mixed with pvc and water to make a consistancy that is abble to be applied to the canvas. Maria Josette Orsto uses hand made combs in hard wood to create her fine work. Using the combs has been a part of Tiwi art for many years and was traditionaly used to appliy the body paint used in ceremonies, giving intricate and evenly spaced fine lines.
The colour of the Ochre paint she uses are representative of different members of her family, particularly those that have passed.
“In the olden days, they used to have combs for painting design on their body and face. It’s a very old technique used for ceremonial painting. Now I use it on canvas.
The combs are made from hardwood. I have to carve to make the shape. Make it round or square, then I flatten it down with a grinder. Grind them, grind them, all around make it smooth. Then I get a little handsaw, just like this, I’d start it. Sawing, side, side, then change to … make them thinner, each. Round. Then I start to practice”