Local Queer Icons - Emerging Aboriginal Artist Presten Warren

24 Oct 2023

For Local Queer Icon Presten Warren, every day brings new challenges, connections, and creations, and he couldn’t be more excited to greet each morning. Warren is an emerging Aboriginal artist based in South Australia in the beautiful coastal town of Port Lincoln. For the past year, Warren has dedicated himself to his craft as a full time artist, managing his business - Painted Studios - with his partner Troy. Each day he is “excited for what is going to happen…every day is so different and so fun and [he gets] to work with the most amazing people doing what [he loves] doing, creating beautiful art.” At only 23 years old, Warren has made a name for himself and his art, working across Australia and internationally and selling over 150 original artworks. In the year since opening his business, Warren has been inundated with praise, support, and demand for his artworks. Completely blown away by the reception to his works, Warren says:

“I am so beyond grateful that this little idea has been successful…The most rewarding part of this experience is actually getting to see people's reactions to my artworks and hearing how in love and happy they are when their new art arrives or when I receive some of the heartwarming compliments from really big bosses and leaders in their industry. Sometimes I can't believe how much of an impact my art can have on people and organisations, it is so surreal how happy and fulfilled it makes people. Just knowing that these artworks I have created are hanging in homes and offices all over the world is crazy.”

Artistic inspiration first came to Warren when, as a child, he would sit by his Nanna’s side for hours and watch her paint. As she worked, she would talk through her process and techniques and Warren would listen attentively, soaking in all of her knowledge about Aboriginal art. He says “she would tell me about each symbol and what it means, what they mean together, the journey the art takes you on. The stories that came through her paintings were so captivating and made the art come alive.” From those early years, Warren’s passion for art only expanded, paving the way for his success as an artist today.

Native Medicines
Native Medicines. Acrylic on Canvas, 55cm x 55cm.

Taking after his Nanna, Warren works primarily in acrylic on canvas, and views it as “the most effective medium for [his] storytelling and also the best to display as a feature in your home or office.” However, Warren has also worked across multiple mediums, experimenting with more three dimensional forms – like hand painted emu eggs and spray paint on timber – and practical and usable art – like earrings, cheeseboards, and phone cases printed with his digital designs. He explains that in these more practical art pieces “each title and story is still just as meaningful and they are still displayed, just in a more active form.” When starting a new artwork, Warren draws significant inspiration from his family, his culture, and the landscapes he has called home:

“My upbringing in the remote and country areas of South Australia has had a big impact on my artistic influence. I was born in Port Augusta, raised in Ceduna (and on Kooniba mission) and now live in Port Lincoln and the landscapes are an endless source of inspiration to create such a vast range of paintings with rich and diverse stories, themes, patterns and symbolism using all the colours of the rainbow. Being a descendant of the Ocean and Desert tribes of South Australia, I am fortunate enough to have been raised out on Country by two tribes from both parts of the land. My homelands are situated along the coast, along the rivers & lakes, amongst the mountains and lush scrub, abundant with beautiful marine life and also out in the desert with the scorched red dirt and the distinct native outback flora & fauna.”

Wirangu Country
Wirangu Country, 2023. Acrylic on Canvas, 75cm x 50cm.

Warren’s travels through Australia have fuelled his artistic practice even further. For anyone wanting to explore a unique destination, Warren recommends his home towns:

“Some of the most stunning and hidden gems of Australia would be Ceduna where I grew up and Port Lincoln where I am now, both seafood capitals and both strikingly beautiful coastal towns with some breathtaking, untouched natural landmarks.”

Further from his home base, certain travel experiences have resonated more deeply with Warren and his artistic practice:

“I have also travelled to Darwin for my work and this was a huge source of inspiration being immersed in my culture and tradition, it's a different world up in the Northern Territory. So tropical and so laid back. I think one of the most memorable experiences was travelling to Roxby Downs to perform a live painting for BHP, this is Kokatha Country and where my ancestors are from. Working on Country was really a remarkable and special experience.”

Looking at Warren’s works, the viewer is immediately captivated by the vibrant earth tones and intricate patterns. Thickly applied brushstrokes and defined linework create a geography of country, culture, and identity on the canvas. As a queer and Aboriginal man, Warren’s intersecting identities make themselves apparent in the bright colours and lively approach:

“My queer identity presents itself in my work just by the way my colours, patterns and attention to detail manifest themselves. I believe my sexuality is a huge part of who I am and how I got here and this naturally brightens and colours all aspects of my life. I am planning on painting a pride collection soon and really hope to be able to combine my culture and my identity in a big splash of rainbow love to show pride for my people.”

Bottlebrush Recreated
Bottlebrush Recreated, 2023. Acrylic on Canvas, 120cm x 50cm.

Warren is among a generation of young queer artists using art as a form of expression, connection, and healing. He uses art as a form of therapy, and encourages others to do the same:

“Creating something that is wholly yours, spending time on it, putting effort into it to make it perfect, pouring your soul into a project that is just for you, this is a form of therapy in itself. I think everyone in the queer community should try creating their own piece of art and see what happens!”

While the act of creating art may be a very personal experience, Warren also hopes that others can connect to his works in unique ways and find their own meaning in each painting:

“I hope my art lifts people's spirits and shines a light on Aboriginal culture. Each piece has its own unique story and meaning and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity detailing this, which I hope might add to the artistic value of each piece and the beauty and wonder that each painting exudes. I have created rainbow coloured brush stroke artworks in the past which have meanings relating to native medicine leaves and their uses in Aboriginal culture, but the buyer who is a gay couple may attribute the colours and patterns to pride which makes me really happy that people can attribute their own personal interpretation and have that intimate relationship with my art.”

Bush Flowers
Bush Flowers. Acrylic on Canvas, 120cm x 65cm.

Some of the most significant work Warren has done is designing Reconciliation Action Plans for leading companies in Australia. He views this work as an important way to raise awareness around reconciliation and create real progress:

“Aboriginal artwork is so distinct and unique and has been passed on from generation to generation for 65,000 years. To be the primary feature of such a beneficial & positive plan feels like such an important & rewarding role. It's not just a job to me because I love what I do, I have a passion for my art and I know that this is something that will have lasting impact. Which is a bit intimidating to think about my legacy but that is why this role is so important. Because these plans were developed in response to the lack of recognition for my people and seek to show respect, develop relationships and create opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which is now more important than ever.”

Empowering South Australia
Empowering South Australia, 2023. Acrylic on Canvas, 170cm x 90cm. Commissioned by SA Power Networks and Enerven for their 2023 Reconciliation Action Plan.

Aside from his reconciliation works, a few of Warren’s pieces stand out to him as favourites. His painting “Munda,” which translates to Earth, was awarded the People’s Choice Award in the Malka Aboriginal Prize in 2023. The painting bursts off the canvas in vibrant concentric rings that resonate with each other to create a sense of motion and animacy. With a ring of arrows around the border, the viewer is reminded of the cycle of life and the interconnectedness of humans with the earth and all its inhabitants. He also feels a strong connection to the painting that started his journey as a professional artist:

“Kuranya Koorong (Rainbow Resting Place) was a piece I started working on when my partner and I just began dating. I painted with him, it has a lot of significance and meaning to me as it was the entire catalyst for Painted Studios and where I am today. Troy encouraged me to start painting as a full time job and we auctioned off this painting for charity. Since then it has been an absolute rollercoaster!”

Munda, 2023. Acrylic on Canvas. 2023 Malka Aboriginal Art Prize People’s Choice Award Winner.

Warren’s work is currently on display at Peter Teakle Wines in Port Lincoln, and he has a few exciting announcements coming later this year. You can view his entire portfolio and learn more about his practice on his website or across his social media accounts.

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We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.