Projects at Poepke: Desert Designs

November 12th, 2012


Welcome back iconic Australian fashion label Desert Designs with the release of their leading collection You Like Desert Country.

Desert Designs represents a unique collaboration between indigenous and non-indigenous artistic Australians. Jimmy Pike is one of Australia’s most celebrated Aboriginal artists. Pike’s artistic practice focuses on the intricacies of the desert landscape and the particularities of its Aboriginal spirituality. In the contemporary revival of Desert Designs, creative directors Jedda Daisy and Caroline strive to bring this otherwise obscure ancient philosophy into a tangible experience, a rare encounter with its beauty and sacredness.

Desert Designs was initially established to promote Aboriginal art worldwide and this ambition is still at the forefront of the label’s intention today. Desert Designs contribute 10% of all sales to the Jimmy Pike trust for scholarships awarded to Aboriginal artists from the Kimberly region with the aim of better developing their skills.

We spoke to Jedda Daisy along with her partner Caroline about the reincarnation of the label and their Project at Poepke.


Desert Designs has quite an incredible history. Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between Jimmy Pike and Steve Culley that generated this label?

Jimmy and Steve were great friends, they were both artists and shared that kind of kindred spirit. Steve recognised the genius of what Jimmy was saying as an artist and that it was something completely new, a new way of describing the environment that Steve had already started to explore pictorially.

They came from totally different worlds. Steve hand spent years painting in the outback and was captivated by Jimmy’s stories of life as a nomad in the desert. Both had been in Fitzroy Crossing, a town in the eastern Kimberleys in the early 70s: a town of riots, a meeting place and at times a collision of cultures and attitudes. Fremantle prison threw them together as allies in an extremely hostile environment. Jimmy revealed an artistic sensibility and a way if seeing and being in Australia that was to change Steve’s life forever.

The original concept grew out of a coming together of one of the oldest cultures in the world and Steve as a kind of artistic innovator. The launch of Desert Designs wasn’t really planned or structured, the wave of cultural and commercial success just happened.

In what ways is the reincarnation of Desert Designs something new, and how does it stay true to the original concept?

I think that Aboriginal people see art and life as one. You manifest your ideas and your culture and you use it, you decorate your tools and your body, it’s applied. In this sense, the age-old concept is fundamental in building a brand of commodities.

The digital age would have to signify the most obvious difference between the original and contemporary Desert Designs. Digital printing has been fantastic for reproducing Jimmy’s work. It has allowed Desert Designs to work with Jimmy’s texta pen drawings, designs that could never have been reproduced correctly before.

The Desert Designs prints are very deeply based in Aboriginal spirituality. How is Desert Designs about more than just aesthetics?

This is so true. Desert Designs is about learning from the past, celebrating Jimmy Pike the artist and exploring our indigenous peoples’ way of seeing and living in Australia.

Jimmy’s stories have reverence in contemporary society for their ancient wisdom. Today worry for our natural world dominates popular consciousness. In Australia, one source of inspiration to adapt our ways of living might be the cosmology of our indigenous peoples. I believe the philosophy behind indigenous story telling is what can save our human relationship with nature.

Jimmy’s designs focus on the intricacies of the desert landscape, and the particularities of its Aboriginal spirituality transforms this extremely isolated area of remote Western Australia (and its otherwise obscure ancient philosophy) into a tangible experience.

Desert Designs was out there in popularising a cultural coming together of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. At the time, it was perhaps the most important brand that Australia had produced. It enabled Jimmy to become one of the first financially successful indigenous artists. It opened up Australian indigenous artists to new economical opportunities and provided Australians of every ethnic background with the opportunity to embrace and wear indigenous design.


What prints can we expect to see as part of the Project at Poepke?

Most of Jimmy’s designs have a story, some don’t.

‘Moonlight Sandhills’ and ‘Jilji and Jumu’ are patterns that are a both a map, and a meditation of the wind and ever present change that occurs in the desert.

Then there’s the Sun, ‘Purangu’. I can tell you Jimmy’s story for this one, I have it written down from when he was alive. ‘Sun is bright when it gets hot.  Sun got its Law and its name from the Dreamtime, when it was underground.  People can bring it closer and make it hotter, so that when the kangaroo runs, it gets blisters on its feet from the hot ground (and people can spear it).  Moonbeams can change a man’s feelings; if he is leaving, he will turn around and go back. Sun is dangerous, moon is alright.’

‘Rainbow Mountain’ or ‘Mirtiny’ is a rocky outcrop that exists on the fringe of Jimmy’s country, and seem to shimmer in light and colour like a mirage in the distance.

‘Mangkaja’ is the owl.  He travelled in the desert and landed in one place.  He flew round and round and made a deep hole in the ground.  Water came up and people still go there for water.

Unique to Projects at Poepke, Desert Designs has introduced a new artistic collaboration. We’re working with Maningrida Arts & Culture (MAC) to promote the indigenous artists of the Maningrida region. The art of Maningrida is heterogeneous, dynamic and innovative, reflecting the diversity of languages and cultures present in Maningrida Arnhem Land. As part of our Project, Desert Designs will be exhibiting fiber sculptures by artists’ from this region.

A slice of all sales goes to the Jimmy Pike trust. What is the purpose of the trust and what kinds of projects is it involved in?

The Jimmy Pike Trust was established by his wife Pat Lowe. The Trust awards the Jimmy Pike Scholarship to a chosen Aboriginal artist twice yearly from the Kimberly region with the aim of better developing their artistic gifts. Printmaker Roseleen Park currently holds the scholarship.


The Desert Designs Project begins on Wednesday 14 November. If you’d like to stay in the loop with Projects at Poepke and our other events, please email us at

Tags: , ,  |  Comments (3)


  1. […] in is our second delivery from current Project Desert Designs. These incredible prints are already disappearing […]

    Pingback by POEPKE — December 18, 2012 @ 11:07 am

  2. […] And look out for a Desert Designs giant silk scarf installation of Jimmy Pike’s texta pen drawings, plus pieces from Tjanpi Desert Weavers – who you may remember from our Desert Designs Project at Poepke. […]

    Pingback by POEPKE — August 14, 2013 @ 11:21 am

  3. […] of our favourite Projects at Poepke returns with a new Spring/Summer collection. The first arrivals feature the Witch Doctor print, […]

    Pingback by POEPKE — September 4, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

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