Otis Carey Explores New Territory in OUR TOTEM


Surfer and artist Otis Carey often finds himself sitting in the surf, looking back at the stringybark forests that cover the Coffs Harbour coastline.

And it’s this unique vantage point that serves as the inspiration for his sixth solo exhibition with China Heights, OUR TOTEM, a continuation of his commitment to putting his relationship with his Gumbaynggirr clan totem, Gaagal (the ocean), onto the canvas… or in this case, bark.

Photo by Duncan Macfarlane

OUR TOTEM is the first time that Otis will be exhibiting new works made on bark that he sourced and treated himself on Gumbaynggirr Country, bringing together the bush and the ocean—two elements that he’s intrinsically linked to, thanks to his formative years growing up on Bundjalung and Gumbaynggirr Country.

Otis’ depiction of Gaagal is created through two layers of linework. The first layer uses traditional symbols; concentric circles that expand out to represent water and the way it ripples outwards when struck by rain, wind or rock. The top layer again references the ocean through his interpretation of wave currents and flowing tides.

For Otis, the newfound experimentation with painting on bark was a fun one, allowing for the grooves, divots and natural undulations of the timber surface to mimic the movement of the ocean. ‘The ocean has so many powerful healing elements to it and to be honest, I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t have the ocean,’ Otis said. ‘I want to share these connections and what the ocean has given me.’

Colour plays an important role in OUR TOTEM too; there’s soft greens that recall his memories of the plush grass that covers the headland of his favourite beach and pastel pinks that remind him of a sunset spent with one of his sons. As you’d expect, Otis’ new show is nothing short of incredible, and you should definitely make sure you get to the opening night of OUR TOTEM from 6pm – 8pm, Friday 12th of August. If you can’t make the opening night, make sure you check it out anytime between 12pm – 5pm daily before September the 4th.

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