Mabel Juli, Gordon Barney, Tommy Carroll and Madeline Purdie: Daam Booroo - Reflections on Country. Nancy Sever Gallery [City Walk Gallery, Level 1], 131 City Walk, Civic. Wednesday-Saturday, 11am-5pm, closes July 17.
Exhibitions from the Warmun Arts Centre, owned and governed by Gija people and located in a remote corner of Western Australia on the Great Northern Highway, have been a frequently recurring event on the calendar of the Nancy Sever Gallery. It is not difficult to see the reason for this - the quality is consistent, the prices are generally modest and the sales are good.
The work taps into the grand tradition of the Turkey Creek artists (former name for Warmun) including Rover Thomas and Queenie McKenzie, although the contemporary work never quite lifts to their sublime quality with their purity of vision, simplicity of means and frequently hard-hitting content. This tyranny of tradition is both the strength and weakness of the present Warmun Arts Centre production.
A little like with Albert Namatjira and the Hermannsburg school, most of the immediate successors worked in the shadow of the grand master until his great-grandson Vincent Namatjira broke free of that heritage and embarked on an entirely different stylistic direction and focused on completely different imagery. To date, none of the Warmun Arts Centre artists included in this exhibition have sought a break from tradition or a new orientation.
Of the four Warmun Arts Centre artists at this exhibition - Mabel Juli, Gordon Barney, Tommy Carroll and Madeline Purdie - the veteran Mabel Juli is the best known and the most accomplished painter. Taught to paint by Queenie McKenzie, Mabel Juli started painting in the 1980s, when she was in her 50s, and she received widespread recognition for her black and white depiction of the moon and star, an important Ngarranggarni (Dreaming) story that was taught to her by her parents and that explores forbidden love, kinship and the source of human mortality.
Her splendid painting, Garn'giny Ngarranggarn, 2022, painted in natural pigments on canvas and measuring 80 by 80 centimetres, is the highlight of this exhibition. As with many of the Gija painters, past and present, there is a contrast between the grittiness of the pigment and the starkness and simplicity of design. The simplified, emblematic quality is a feature of many of her other paintings at the exhibition, including Yarrunga, 2019 and Jangari and Jagarra, 2019. This prolific painter is almost 90 years old and has lost none of her drive, determination and sureness of touch.
Tommy Carroll and Gordon Barney are predictable and reliable artists whose work changes little from exhibition to exhibition. Madeline Purdie is probably the other interesting artist at this exhibition, the daughter of the well-known artist Shirley Purdie and her grandmother is the internationally renowned artist Madigan Thomas.
Aged in her 40s, Madeline Purdie in some of her work has a freer and less constrained manner of painting, especially in her square 80 by 80 centimetres canvas, Environmental rehabilitation at the Argyle Diamond site, 2021, with sweeping energised patterns of natural pigments. It is an elegant painting that weaves its own sense of magic.
Like the many preceding exhibitions from the Warmun Arts Centre shown at this gallery, this show is pleasing, well executed, even if not particularly challenging or inspiring.
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