The greatest compliment ever received by our Gallery came late one night in August 2002, a lady from Switzerland dropped by on her way home from dinner. She looked around and we had an informal chat. It was obvious she was astutely appreciative of art. She was particularly interested in the Aboriginal Artists who had paintings in the Gallery she commented before leaving “YOU MAKE THEM SOUND REAL”. We replied “But they Are!” The lady said
..”I meant it as a compliment their paintings come alive when you describe the Artist”. She purchased the following day.
The Real Aboriginal Artists
The artists want the world to know them as they are why they paint in a particular style, why they carve boab nuts or wooden figures, why they specialise in dot art, why they use ochre or acrylic or both, who their mentors were they enjoy painting in the Gallery, talking to people from all over the world, learning history and culture from other countries. They want to share and exchange painting techniques and they are very quick to learn. Aboriginal heritage is marked by an amazing ability to observe, listen and learn. Their numeracy skills are incredible do not play cards with them unless your name is Cool Hand Luke. So many remark “We can paint Kartiya (whiteman) way”, which means they can sketch all of the great Aboriginal painters have that in common the ability to draw with no formal teaching.
Aboriginal people are gregarious they love to laugh, they love music, they love dancing these are the characteristics we want to show the world about our Indigenous people. Following are just a few of the tales we could tell about the Artists who are as authentic as their artworks.
“How long can you do this before your eyes start to see double?”
“Oh, not very long only about six or seven hours!”
MARYANNE STURT, RINGER SOAK COMMUNITY
Sitting on the floor (favoured painting position) surrounded by ochre etc. in office when we discovered a page on the Internet which we printed out it was the cover painting for a prestigious book on Aborigines titled “Unseen in Scene” and published in German and English. Impressive!
We put the page under the nose of the totally focused artist who merely commented “Yes, I’ve got that book” and handed back the sheet of paper.
Artist painting in house, hair over her eyes as she carefully dotted the fluting around a beautiful piece titled “Spider Dreaming” Internationally known and a grandmother of six. Kindly gentleman who was watching said “Aren’t you very young to be painting as well as that?”
She threw back her hair, put down the brush, burst out laughing and replied “I totally give up”.
Very loveable but not short of “artistic licence”, six foot plus and painting an enormous board decided he just HAD TO HAVE MUSIC. Demanded some George Strait CD’s, shocked to find no power plug where he was painting Relocated painting, ochre, brushes etc. and the CD player to the main aisle of the Gallery totally blocked off all access (and we have photos!) in the height of the Season with a very crowded gallery mid afternoon. Happily painted whilst singing along with George and other Country & Western Artists, oblivious to all around and in particular the embarrassment of US!! The painting was sold as he put the last white dot on it great. Then he said “Well, I’ll do another big one starting tomorrow”. It helps not to have high blood pressure when dealing with TOMMY CARROLL!
Artist painting in house on the floor as none of our tables were large enough unstretched canvas precision work titled “Black Wandjina” degree of difficulty enormous. Elderly gentleman remarked “I have just been to Kalumburu and I know Kununurra artists are not allowed to paint Wandjina”.
Artist did not look up, did not falter in her stroke, merely continued with her work. How embarrassed would the gentleman have been had we said, please meet
Artist, tour guide, specialist in bush medicines, land preservation, rock art, aboriginal traditional history and culture very little she does not know about. Brought some digeridoos into the Gallery for us she was particularly proud of the golden Woollybutt which she had found and the digi’s were exceptional. She played one to demonstrate to us that they just did not look good, they blew very well.
Driver delivering packaging material said “Women aren’t allowed to play those”.
The laughing reply was “Listen, Mate I found the trees, I cut every digi, I soaked them, I dried them, I cleaned them out and I painted them, and I sure as hell am going to play them!”
JU JU WILSON
It was just before Christmas 1997, and the Kitja people of Warmun celebrate the Festive Season in a “dual” way they embrace the Christian teachings with their Traditional culture the children are given presents by two elders dressed as Crows (Wangkarnal and his son). For the children, it is a momentous occasion their bodies are painted by their elders, they dance their corroboree when they see the Wangkarnal coming the excitement is incredible. The Crow and his son hand out presents and the atmosphere is simply electric. The scene is unforgettable for any white person who is privileged to see it. Happiness personified in the simplest and best way possible by Aboriginal children and a basis on which to build and expand their culture as they grow up.she said….”Please paint a crow for me”he said… “I don’t do crows”.
The conversation continued “Please I know you can I just saw the kids and I really really want a crow painting you can paint Kartiya way please”.
So he waited until she was packing up to go on Christmas Holidays and walked through the door with a small painting canvas stretched on full board. Unusual. Flashed the painting at her, looked from under his straw hat and muttered something about finding this at his place at Frog. All she saw was a black bird sitting on a fence with mini bungles painted in the foreground. She was busy he knew it she was excited he expected it. “Oh, thank you” and she purchased it, as she had done his paintings several times since meeting him.
In early 2002, he walked through the door of her Gallery again, she purchased his Paintings, but this time for resale, not private collection. He looked around the Gallery, and asked why none of his paintings she had collected were hanging.
“Because they are my paintings not for selling”. He merely smiled. Later that day, he casually said “You still got that painting of the hawk I did?” “You mean the Crow”. Nothing more was mentioned. That night she found the painting amongst others she had collected over the years, not hanging. It was very plainly a black hawk. Next time he visited her, she said “O.K. Why the hawk”. He was a great joker but he had meant what he had said
“I told you, I don’t do crows”. He dated the work mid 1980′s, had stretched the canvas himself over board and glued it. and Signed it.
We have endless stories to tell about our painters, their characters, their comments about their own paintings and others, the tricks they play on us, their sense of humour when we pay them back the bottom line is . We have fun. We are there for them and in turn, they reciprocate. What we notice above all is the camaraderie shared by the artists regardless of skin, style, technique they are happy when one succeeds, they help when another has a problem. In Aboriginal way, the family is so very important and the artists have along the way formed a family within their own family as Jack predicted we will survive through our stories, our dancing and our painting.