Betty, Sade and Charlene Carrington: Three Generations of Gija Artists. Nancy Sever Gallery, City Walk Gallery, level 1, 131 City Walk, Civic. Until April 11, 2021.
The Nancy Sever Gallery - Canberra's itinerant commercial art gallery - started life in Kingston, then migrated to the Gorman Arts Centre and now to Civic, where last year it opened in a slightly converted first floor office space that has now become the gallery's main display space.
To my eye, the space is cramped, with reduced opportunity to view larger artwork, but hopefully the more central location with major signage downstairs and, sharing the building with the well-established King O'Malley's Irish Pub, may increase the foot traffic and gallery visitation numbers.
Over the years the gallery has established a strong stable of artists and as far as I can see these will continue in the new venue. The Three Generations of Gija Artists show continues the gallery's long-standing commitment to the Warmun Arts Centre in Western Australia. This exhibition adopts a narrower focus than some of the other Warmun shows and consists of work by three generations of a family of Gija women artists: Betty, Sade and Charlene Carrington.
The matriarch of the family, Betty Carrington Budbarria, was born in 1944 and started painting in 1998 and, together with her partner Patrick Mung Mung, she was an early member of the arts centre. In her oeuvre, landscapes of the hills of Darrajayin, her father's traditional land southwest of Warmun and from Ngarrgooroon, her mother's country, are juxtaposed with historical scenes including the Mistake Creek massacre.
Her daughter, Sade Carrington Budbarria (bush name Dalimbal) was born in Texas Downs, East Kimberley in 1957 and is also married to an artist, Churchill Cann. She was separated from her family and was brought up in mission schools and at a ladies' college in Perth.
She started painting before her mother, working with ochre at the age of 13, and in the 1980s was taught by Jack Britten and Queenie McKenzie to paint on canvas. It was only in the 1990s that she started to exhibit her work and travelled extensively in Australia and Europe lecturing on Gija culture, country, history and language. She paints the stories of her family's country, Texas Downs Station, as well as her great-grandmother's country, Purnululu.
The third artist in this exhibition is Sade's daughter Charlene Carrington, who was born in Perth in 1977. Her early paintings echoed many of the stylistic mannerisms of her father, Churchill Cann, but gradually she also absorbed aspects of her grandmother Betty's work, as well as work by Queenie McKenzie, Jack Britten, Beerbee Mungnari, Rover Thomas and George Mung Mung.
Last year she received national attention when her portrait of her father was selected as a finalist in the Archibald and received critical acclaim, including from this art critic.
Although there is a consistent quality throughout this exhibition, many of the pieces are somewhat repetitive of those seen earlier and generally fall short of the paintings of the great Warmun artists. Charlene Carrington's work stands out for its freshness, quirkiness and preparedness to take risks while still adhering to the main tenets of Ngarrangkarni (Dreaming) Stories of her Gija culture.
A painting like her untitled canvas from 2018, measuring 90 centimetres by 120 centimetres, is quite a minimal, monochrome canvas where chunky bits of black charcoal are suspended against majestically brushed grey watery fans delicately demarcated with white dots. It is graceful, memorable and effective.
Charlene Carrington has not only a wonderful artistic pedigree, but she is also carving out for herself a reputation of a dynamic emerging original artistic personality.