Zac Benner-Brook is a Torres Strait Islander artist who makes art under the moniker Saltwater Dreamtime.
He grew up in Wollongong and paints incredible pieces onto a bunch of different mediums, including surfboards and fins.
We talked to Zac about his painting technique, representing his culture, and having no-one to blame but himself when the going gets tough. If you want to create your own path to success, best to learn from someone who’s a few steps ahead of you.
Hey Zac. When did you begin painting on surfboards?
I started back in 2012, I was still studying PDHPE teaching at Uni and had been commissioned by a local school to paint an artwork.
The school knew I did a little painting in my spare time and asked me to create a new work for them. While I was waiting for the paint to dry on the commission work, I was getting a little frustrated with how long the paint was taking to dry so I decided to start another work at the same time.
I saw an old surfboard in my garage where I was working and it was one of those light bulb moments, I thought why not combine my surf culture with Indigenous culture to create something really original and unique. And that’s when I decided to move onto painting surfboards.
Do you surf with any boards that you’ve painted on?
Yeah I sure do! I currently have a nice big 9.5 foot board which I have painted up, being such a large board it made for an amazing canvas to paint my artwork on.
How and when did you learn the ‘dot painting’ technique?
I have always been painting and the style is a technique that has always been around our house or I have known of. It was not until my final year of High School that I decided to do an Indigenous artwork for my major work in Visual Arts.
I researched a lot of different styles and spoke with different elders and community members about the technique, but for me it was really trial and error to develop my own personal style.
How important is representing your Torres Strait Islander roots and culture in your work?
Being a proud Indigenous man of Torres Strait Islander heritage and born and raised in Dharawal Country Wollongong, it is really important to me to highlight and showcase my culture through my work.
I feel my artwork is one way I can connect to my culture whilst also putting it out there for people of all walks of life to see and learn more about Indigenous Australian culture. By painting on different mediums such as surfboards I feel it opens the doors for various conversations to be had to help educate people about our culture.
What advice would you give students and young people who want to pursue art as a career?
Firstly, be passionate about what you love and wish to do, no matter what it is in life. Secondly, develop your own personal style and technique which best represents you personally and the stories/dreamings you wish to share with everyone.
What is the hardest lesson you’ve learnt about following your passion?
It can definitely be challenging at times, for me not accepting a full time secure job and deciding to start my own business and to chase those dreams was daunting. Not having anyone to blame if things go wrong except yourself was hard at first, but it pushed me to do my best and not give up.
…And the most rewarding?
Succeeding is definitely pretty rewarding! Weather it is selling some work to a new client, creating something brand new and different or just purely being happy with what you do, I find those always rewarding.