Art on Our Doorstep – Country and Dreamtime (“Paintings by Leading Gija Artists of Western Australia”) at Nancy Sever Gallery in Kingston

At the end of summer I travelled to the landscape and Dreamtime of the Kimberley at Nancy Sever Gallery in Kingston. The beautiful paintings of Phyllis Thomas, Peggy Patrick and Rusty Peters lifted me out of reality and into the colours of their country. This week I stepped out of a cold crisp Canberra night into a similar world in the same magical little Kingston gallery. As I walk into that warm light filled space I am embraced again by the colours and shapes of the Kimberley. This time the paintings are by leading Gija artists from Western Australia: Patrick Mung Mung, Gordon Barney, Tommy Carroll and Mark Nodea.

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So on a wintery Canberra night I am back in Gija country strolling among the shapes of hills, trees, seed pods, water holes, rocks and river beds. I am wandering in a Dreamtime world which melds with the natural forms and hues of a profoundly real landscape. “Features in the landscape such as hills, trees, rocks, waterholes and rivers appear as motifs, but they represent the history of the land. In fact, some forms were once Ngarranggarni figures which then became the very features within the landscape. A line might be a road, a river or the journeys of Woonggool, the Dreaming serpent.” (Notes from Nancy Sever).

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Once again I am accosted by the astonishing colours of the Kimberley. How do these artists create the exact colours of their land – the deep coffee browns, the blazing orange, the shades of ochre, pumpkin and olive, the soft chalky pastel blue, dusty pink and sandy yellow? The earthy texture of those incandescent, gorgeous, natural pigments makes it hard not to touch these vibrant canvases.

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The unique and beautiful mapping of Country is evident in the beehive hill shapes and honey yellows of Patrick Mung Mung’s Purnululu and in the blue water and dazzling orange earth of Gordon Barney’s Birnoo. In contrast with these luminous depictions of the natural landscape is Mark Nodea’s Lost Family. This canvas is a dramatic narrative which draws on the shapes of the natural world to tell a poignant and dark story of loss.

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Tommy Carroll’s stunning black and white canvases (Wungkul and Wangul and Nganjiwarr) remind us of the crossroad between Dreamtime and reality. The perfect patterning of white dots on deep textured coal black background takes our breath away. This is the trail of Woonggool the Dreaming serpent.

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Nancy Sever’s current exhibition transports you to an extraordinary country of earth, water, trees and rocks and also into a domain of history, memory, hope and loss which is inextricably tangled up with the nebulous unnameable realm of the Dreamtime.

© Anita Patel, 2015

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