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THE DUENDE AND ME by artist designer Anna Bourke [Atomic Anna]

After Brisbane art college, I was a bit unsure how to get started in my career, I was a bit clueless. Other people went and got jobs, but I was too impatient. I really wanted to get straight into into it; armed only with youthful confidence and faith in myself, I found a work space where I wanted to be. It was a tiny room in the Brisbane Arcade, up on the second floor, really tucked away, that was in January 1980. A very kind Courier Mail journalist, Grace Garlick, wrote a piece on me, and suddenly that little room wasn’t tucked away anymore. I would cut garments at my home at night, and sew them by day in my workroom, and I did ok, It was a flourishing time.


Brisbane was a scared little place then, but there were lots of creative people actively working, in all fields, and eventually people would meet…. we would find our tribe. There were a lot of affordable spaces in great locations that anyone could rent; I moved around the inner city according to space needs. There was a thirst for excitement and people were receptive. Music and dancing were the catalyst, at Cloudland, the UQ Refectory, with clients and their friends….friendships were formed, and continue to this day. We did revel in getting very dressed up. Energy and exuberance were the order of the day.


The Duende? Its a Spanish word meaning: A quality of passion and inspiration, A spirit. Those unanticipated moments when you no longer control the work, but the work channels itself into being, and you’re the vehicle. Some call it white heat, others call it Duende. Duende can’t be sought; it comes on its own in the act of creation. In Philippino folklore, The Duende is a mischievous imp that lives underground.


The Duende well and truly had me in it’s sights. I had a lot of creative freedom, that was terrific.


I started collaborating with hairdressers, the legendary Greg Smith gave me a massive break, other clothing designers and boutiques, we did lots of parades, nightclubs, fundraisers…..people were receptive to these parades, and I would have models I had found [no one ever said no], dressers, lots of support, receptive audiences. These events met with varying degrees of success…. filled with the spirit of collaboration and lots of fun; just doing it was the reward.Looking back, I hope I thanked everyone enough.


Behind all this hype and buzz was a lot of hard work and long hours. I’m not a natural business manager, so it was a steep learning curve, occasionally frustrating, learning how to survive and flourish. Add in a life partner John, and a bonnie baby, Alexander, and I had to learn how to juggle all of those conflicting activities. Collaborations continued, but I was more behind the scenes. I definitely felt the pressure to keep churning out amazing whacky creations, but my creative journey was more nuanced than that. And my energy was directed to raising my growing family. We ended up with three sons.


In the 1990s, I did a series of charming afternoon tea parades with some supportive women, Robyn and Denise, and textile designer Vanessa Richmond.They were relaxed events and successful too.


I am still working, making clothes, hats, bags, printing tea towels, it will all be on my website soon. I have a lovely workroom and lots of creative and personal freedom, which I love, not being chained to a dying industry. Traveling occasionally, seeking inspiration, trying to finish restoring this house, staying healthy, all good things.That imp Duende isn’t finished with me yet.


This is a very brief look into those crazy days of the 80s, the days of making your own opportunities happen; I could ramble for hours. No regrets though.



Street Arts Paint Factory Rock N Roll Circus – Anna Bourke Artist Archives