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Review: Arone Meeks: Beyond the Blue: Unbroken at Megalo

Arone Meeks: Beyond the Blue: Unbroken

Megalo Print Gallery, 21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston

Closes May 27, Tues-Sat 9.30am-5pm.

Arone Meeks was born in Sydney in 1957, as a lovechild of Valerie Meeks, a KuKu Miidiji woman from Laura in Far North Queensland and a Spanish man travelling with a circus. On his birth certificate, he was registered as Raymond Power, but as he never knew his father and lost his mother by the time he was seven, he grew up as Raymond Meeks and was cared for by an abusive uncle in Cairns.

Encouraged by a school teacher, Christine Wood, at the Tully State High School, to pursue his natural ability in art, he got a folio of work together and, when he was about 15, he was accepted into the Queensland University of Technology art school in Brisbane. After about a year he moved down to Sydney, where he worked at various jobs in the kitchen and as a silver service waiter, while studying at art schools, especially the Alexander Mackie. For Meeks, a thumbnail biography is almost mandatory, as so much of his work is about identity – who he is, where he comes from, his sexuality and the vast rich culture of his country.

Arone Meeks, Installation view of Monoprints

Arone Meeks, Installation view of Monoprints Photo: Supplied

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It was in Canberra in the early 1980s that Meeks, through Banduk Marika, was introduced to printmaking and he commenced his ongoing association with the wonderful master printer Theo Tremblay, who at that time was working at the Canberra Art School and at Studio One. Meeks describes printmaking as a friendly, democratic medium that you can share around and in this way spread your story. The famous ceramicist, Thancoupie, spiritually adopted him and became his mentor. She gave him the tribal name Arone (Black Crane) during his initiation in 1988 in his home country of Laura. Through this he gained permission to depict the culture and legends of the peoples of Cape York.

The exhibition at Megalo brings together prints by Meeks from several series – the startling colourful monoprints and the stunning, huge Spirit Ark linocut, all printed with Tremblay in Cairns, as well as some of the very recent etchings and lithographs that he has completed during his six-week fellowship at Megalo in Canberra. Although Meeks' imagery is figurative, it is whimsical and emblematic rather than strictly literal.

Arone Meeks, Spirit Ark
Lino Print,

Arone Meeks, Spirit Ark Lino Print, Photo: Supplied

Meeks creates a personal iconography, where traditional pictorial language is combined with symbols that have personal significance for the artist. In Spirit Ark (2011), a linocut measuring 110 x 170cm, a boat travels, navigated by the stars, as it returns to the dreaming and country. The passengers include his mother, a figure with three dillybags and three mangrove men. The ornamental waters below contain dugong seagrasses, irukandji jellyfish, sea cucumbers and the spawning coral. Although conscious of the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander printmaking, Meeks creates a moving and slightly mystical contemplative atmosphere. Reality is intangible and ineffable, something that can be dreamt about, but never fully grasped.

Although Meeks is proud of his ancestry and cultural heritage, his art is not locked into prescribed traditional imagery and plays with the eternal forces, such as serpent dreaming, the male and female creation and destruction, light and darkness and draws on a wide range of sources, including the irrepressible Keith Haring.

This is a beautiful and joyous exhibition that pulsates with life and urgency and focuses on the eternal questions of where we come from, why we are here and where we go.