Art on our Doorstep – From Kingston to the Kimberley (“Recent Paintings by Senior Gija Artists from Western Australia” at the Nancy Sever Gallery, Kingston)


Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
― Pablo Picasso

The marvellous thing about art is how it can catch you completely by surprise. You potter along on a warm summer’s evening to an opening night of an exhibition, hoping to chat to a few friends and nibble some canapes, and suddenly you are transported to another world. So it was, this week, as I climbed the stairs to an extraordinary exhibition of work by three Aboriginal artists: Phyllis Thomas, Peggy Patrick and Rusty Peters. Their paintings are in the current exhibition: “Recent Paintings by Senior Gija Artists from Western Australia” at the Nancy Sever Gallery in Kennedy Street, Kingston.

This joyous little private gallery, which opened at the start of 2014, is tucked away in a street of cafes, shops, bars and restaurants. You cross the road from all the action and make your way upstairs to three airy light filled rooms of beautiful artworks. Nancy Sever, the director of the gallery, is an elegant and warm person who is more than happy to answer any questions about the art on display. She retired from a long career as a curator (including twenty years as Director of the Drill Hall Gallery at ANU) and is now living her dream of owning and managing a gallery which showcases the best of contemporary art in Australia. Nancy works directly with the artists and the proceeds from the artworks go back to the individuals who created them.

On Wednesday, 11 February, l strolled over to Nancy’s first exhibition of 2015. Leaving the tranquil and pretty streetscape of Kingston with its sassy awnings, cosy book shops and people dining al fresco under a canopy of leafy branches, I entered the stunning landscape of the Kimberley and the realm of Ngarranggarni (Dreaming).

It’s the colours that you notice before anything else. They jump off the canvases and accost us. Deep, rich, luminous earthy pigments – charcoal, rust red, burnt orange, ochre, olive green, cream, pure white, soft pink, black, every shade of grey, brown and yellow – an infinite palette of unnameable hues and tones. These are the colours of Gija Country – of sandy riverbanks, creek beds, boabs, cycads, water holes, star spiked night skies, crocodile holes, bullock yards and emu eggs. Some of these colours defy description – the muddy mauve pink in Gawarlgan Country by Rusty Peters has no equivalent in western art and could only have been created from pigments found in his own natural environment.

The interplay of colour and texture in these paintings takes our breath away. Incandescent ochre brushing the black silhouettes of boab trees in Moon Dreaming by Rusty Peters, delicate pink and pearly grey dancing against each other in Dead Horse Spring at Riyarr by Phyllis Thomas, stony pools edged in dark plum red in Waterholes by Peggy Patrick.

This is art that lifts you out of your comfortable existence and takes you to a place beyond your imagination. I loved this exhibition and I will go back again and again this month to gaze at these glorious paintings.

© Anita Patel, 2015

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