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This Colourful Life

For Wayde Clarke, life has been a beautiful and bumpy ride, but creating art has served as a grounding anchor throughout it all. A proud queer Birpai and Wiradjuri man living on Awabakal land in Newcastle, Wayde’s journey as an artist has unexpectedly gone from part time hobby to full time career. With legions of loyal fans lapping up his brilliantly bright creations, Wayde’s purpose runs higher than just decorating walls with his paintings - he plans to help people through art. Swell writer Odette Tonkin discovers that he’s a man on a mission.

Meeting Wayde Clarke at a local café over iced chai lattes feels more like catching up with a long-lost dear friend than somebody whose art I have admired through Instagram and with whom I have only conversed via email. But such is the nature of this gentle and welcoming young man, who radiates warmth and projects positivity with every sentence he speaks.

We chat easily about the importance of creating, about finding a place to belong, about love and loss and about Wayde’s passion for using his art to help others feel nurtured and heard. Wearing his trademark Aléjandro Lauren t-shirt, the brand name under which Wayde sells his vibrant creations, Wayde’s cheeky laugh and his willingness to swan dive into anything he sets his mind to is impressive and it’s easy to see why people are drawn to this likeable artist and his uplifting artworks.

Raised by his mum on the Western Plains of Dubbo on Wiradjuri country, Wayde was lured to the creative arts from a young age and gravitated towards photography, painting and digital drawing while he was at high school. Wayde explains that his father was a proud Birpai man with ancestry from the mid-north coast of NSW, but it wasn’t until later in life that Wayde felt truly connected to his Indigenous culture. 

“I guess growing up I struggled to fit into white culture, and I always had this longing for connection to my Indigenous roots because my dad wasn’t around much,” says Wayde. “I felt like my identity was always a source of confusion because I also came out at a young age, living in a country town – I didn’t really know my place in the world.”

“I guess growing up I struggled to fit into white culture, and I always had this longing for connection to my Indigenous roots because my dad wasn’t around much.”

Bravely moving to Newcastle after finishing school with no real plan in mind, Wayde says his life as a full-time artist evolved organically. “I slummed it out in retail and hospitality for a while and I did a bit of marketing for the TAFE where I learnt a lot, and I always kept painting and drawing on the side,” remembers Wayde. 

But it was a chance meeting with a stranger in a café who saw Wayde scribbling away in a corner that put his art at the forefront of his life. “A random guy noticed me drawing and asked me if I was an artist and I was like, ‘No way!’ and I told him I just draw to chill out and relax, and then he asked to see some of my artworks, so I sent him some photos and he ended up buying three of my pieces,” says Wayde.

 

Along with his first proper sale, Wayde’s first unexpected customer encouraged him to try selling his wares on Etsy. As the sales slowly started to roll in, a new website under the alias of Aléjandro Lauren was next on Wayde’s to-do list. “Aléjandro is like my alter ego. Using that name was a way that I could be confident, authentic, and true to myself as a young queer, Indigenous man who sometimes struggled to find my place or make sense of who I was,” explains Wayde. 

“But the ethos behind Aléjandro is that he is strong and fearless and will stand up for anyone, lifting them up and celebrating them for who they are. The whole meaning behind the name is about embracing everyone, regardless of what gender, race, religion, or body shape they are because everyone is different and deserves to be loved and supported. It’s the perfect brand name for my art because I use my artworks to share that message.”

Aléjandro is like my alter ego. Using that name was a way that I could be confident, authentic, and true to myself as a young queer, Indigenous man who sometimes struggled to find my place or make sense of who I was.”

Walking past Wayde’s vibrant and uplifting market stall at Newcastle’s Olive Tree Markets, which was his very first destination for selling his art directly to the public, you can’t help but smile and be transfixed by Wayde’s clever collision of colour and patterns. 

The first to admit that his style has evolved, Wayde says he started out drawing silhouettes of women and faceless nudes which linked intrinsically to queer art expression and was all about encouraging body positivity and acceptance. “I also loved drawing flowers and nature which links into that strong feminine power. I still use these elements now, but I also paint in what I call a contemporary, impressionist Indigenous style and that has been very healing for me,” says Wayde.

“I like to tell my story through my art, rather than my elders’ story. I use heavy Indigenous references and learning about this type of art has really helped me to connect to my culture as a black man.”

When he’s in the zone, Wayde says he’ll disappear into his home art studio and paint and paint until the light begins to fade at the end of the day. “Sometimes I’ll look at the clock for the first time and its nearly 5pm and I haven’t had a break or lunch or anything because I’m just really focused on my painting,” says Wayde. “I’ll put my music on, and I’ll be working away and sometimes my husband will come in to say hi and I’ll jump out of my skin, scared to death because I’m in the zone and I won’t hear him!”

Wayde’s husband Daniel has been a constant support to the artist, whom he credits for believing in him and the path to pursuing his art full-time. “He’s so proud of me and I’m so lucky to have him because he’s such an amazing guy and I couldn’t do this life without him,” says Wayde. “He helps with my emails and packing orders and he’s even run my market stalls for me when I’m sick, but he’s always quick to tell people that it’s not his art because he’s a white man! He always tells customers, ‘I’m just the husband!’” laughs Wayde.

“I like to tell my story through my art, rather than my elders’ story. I use heavy Indigenous references and learning about this type of art has really helped me to connect to my culture as a black man.”

In and around a busy life filled with paint, canvases, and market stalls, this determined Novocastrian has also found time to squeeze in some serious study and is looking forward to finishing an art therapy course later this year. 

Wayde says he has always used his art as a tool to process what he’s going through in life and release his stress and worries and he hopes to teach others the techniques to do the same. “I heard about this idea of Starseeds which are people who are really spiritual and have come from the stars to help other people heal in whatever way they need. I sometimes think of myself as one of these because I really want to help people on their journeys through life so they can live authentically and without judgement,” says Wayde.

Despite the growing demand for his art and plenty of exciting opportunities like trademarking his designs for big companies, happening for Wayde, the past few years have been particularly tough after the loss of three important women in his life. “I lost my mum, my mother-in-law, and my best friend who I’ve known my entire life. I went through many dark moments during that time,” says Wayde. “But going through those things made me appreciate how precious life is and how determined I am to use my art to spread love and joy.”

Then Wayde says he experienced a full circle moment. “My best friend Claudette and I always had this connection to butterflies as we grew up and after she passed, I was painting this small piece that was all blues and watery and calm and then a butterfly randomly came into my studio and flew around me. It really made me stop and think about the spiritual world and that feeling of knowing someone is still there with you. I could never sell that painting because it symbolises the moment that we will see each other again. That’s the power of art.”

“I’m all about inclusion because we’ve all had a time in our lives when we’ve felt left out or unsure of where we belong…”

Our glasses sit empty on the café table and the morning makes its familiar run into lunchtime, yet I feel like I could sit and listen to the optimism and hopes and dreams of Wayde Clarke all day. Wayde says that this is the year he will finish his art therapy course and hopefully open a little gallery/café/studio/therapy space. I’m told the Aléjandro Lauren space will be a place where everyone is welcome and people can come and hang out, enjoy the art, have a coffee and a chat, and sign up to an art workshop or give art therapy a go. 

“I’m all about inclusion because we’ve all had a time in our lives when we’ve felt left out or unsure of where we belong so I’m manifesting opening my very own beautiful space that everyone can enjoy,” says Wayde. “I’m so grateful that I get to paint and do my art for a living. The universe has been very kind to me so now it’s my turn to help others through art.”

Words: Odette Tonkin | Photography: Dominique Cherry

As seen in Swell Issue 20. Grab your copy here

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