Warmun at Twenty . Various artists. Nancy Sever Gallery, Gorman Arts Centre, 55 Ainslie Ave, Braddon. Until April 8.
Reviewer: Sasha Grishin.
The Warmun Art Centre, formerly known as Turkey Creek, first opened its doors in 2007 and was home to an array of major Aboriginal artists from the region who included Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Paddy Jaminji, Jack Britten and Hector Jandany.
It is the next generation of younger and emerging artists, which includes Patrick Mung Mung, Mabel Juli, Shirley Purdie, Gordon Barney, Phyllis Thomas, Rusty Peters and Charlene Carrington, Tommy Carroll, Kathy Ramsey and Rammey Ramsey, who are featured in this exhibition.
If the first generation was that of pioneers and discoverers, the subsequent generations were settlers and developers who built on the foundations of their predecessors. Some of them are interesting and accomplished artists; they do lack something of the profundity and excitement of the founders and their work does on occasion lend itself to less than favourable comparisons with that of giants in the art world, such as Rover Thomas and Queenie McKenzie, who were shown in Canberra at the now defunct Chapman Gallery 10 or 15 years ago.
The smallish canvas by Rusty Peters, Three nyawana in Yarini country (2012) is one of the gems in this exhibition with wonderful gritty surfaces and a simple compositional structure. The combination of areas of natural pigment, neatly articulated by white dots and presented in a series of horizontal bands, with a band of more naturally observed three trees is effective and memorable. Peters is aged in his late 80s and worked with Rover Thomas before branching out into his own practice. He has a boldness of touch and the ability to create moving, moody landscapes that are charged with meaning of traditional law and contain the sacred landforms.
Shirley Purdie, who turns 70 this year and was the winner of the Blake Prize for Religious Art about a decade ago, has been painting for about 25 years. The outstanding piece at the exhibition is her large painting Goordbelayinji (2012), which is arranged as a triptych and stretches over three metres. "Goordbelayinji" is a Gija word for a massacre site and it is a narrative that Purdie has painted on many occasions. In the upper centre of the composition there is a scene of Aboriginal life before the Europeans arrived, while on the left we see the arrival of Europeans in their wagons.
The lower part of the composition marks the place of the massacre of the Gija peoples at Mistake Creek, with the actual site marked near the growing boab tree. The perpetrators were acquitted as they claimed that they were tricked into believing that these Aboriginal people had stolen and killed one of their cows. It is a remarkably lyrical composition that masks a dark episode in Aboriginal history.
Purdie's husband, Gordon Barney, is the other outstanding artist in the show with a similar palette and a lovely gritty tactile quality in the ochres and ground pigments used to describe the landscape elements. His images of Birnoo country have a wonderful combination of aerial imagery and an articulation with crisp white dotting. They are rhythmic and moving abstracted images of the local landscape.
In the short life of the Nancy Sever Gallery, shows from the Warmun Art Centre have been frequent but of differing calibre. This is one of the best with a consistent quality throughout most of the painters.
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