No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting

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  • These painters have gone far beyond the boundaries of their community, their country, and the very idea of their work as merely ethno- graphic. They are simply painters some of the finest abstract painters this planet has ever seen.

    Dennis Scholl

  • I think you are meant to look at these paintings and be bowled away by their beauty, while also recognizing that they contain depths that will always remain beyond your understanding.

    Henry Skerritt


  • I think you are meant to look at these paintings and be bowled away by their beauty, while also recognizing that they contain depths that will always remain beyond your understanding.

    Henry Skerritt

    For the artists in this exhibition, the Dreaming goes by different names: Tjukurrpa in the Western Desert; Ngarranggarni in the Kimberley; and Dirula in the North. The Dreaming incorporates ancestral beings, the creation of the universe, and the laws governing social and religious behavior. It also dictates connections to place that define individual Aboriginal identities. Dreaming tracksoften referred to as Songlinestrace the movements of the ancestral beings from one place to another, which means that the identity of every place and people is understood in relation to adjacent places and people. The entire country is thereby connected in an endless network.

    Like the prehistoric rock art and sacred or ceremonial objects that preceded them, the paintings in No Boundaries are rooted in ancient Aboriginal cosmology. The non-representational style provides a common ground through which the artists are able to communicate spatial information. By moving into the realm of abstraction, the artists shifted the emphasis from communicating the specifics of the Dreaming, towards communicating broad impressions. The non-representational style is designed to keep secret and sacred elements hidden, while allowing uninitiated viewers to feel the power of the Dreaming.

    A number of paintings in No Boundaries have been displayed on a horizontal plane rather than on the wall as one might expect. This is intended to highlight the landscape-like and sculptural qualities of the paintings. Looking across the canvases, one sees peaks and valleys, which appear more like physical renderings of cartography. The Dreaming encodes the location of essential waterholes and food sources into stories, dances, and songs. Some scholars have called it the most sophisticated non-technological system of knowledge in the world. The Dreaming and the paintings arising from it are thus both a belief system and a geographical fact.

    The Dreaming



    Celebrated as one of Australias most important artists, Paddy Bedford was also a Lawman of the greatest authority amongst his Gija people. Bedford was born c. 1922 in the remote and majestic country of Bedford Downs Station in the East Kimberley region of northwestern Australia. It was from the station that he gained his surname, his first name coming from the severe Australian Station Master, Paddy Quilty, the man believed responsible for the massacre of a group of Bedfords kin a few years earlier. This undercurrent of colonial violence was ever present in Bedfords work. Along with artist Timmy Timms, he was integral to the development of the landmark exhibition Blood on the Spinifex, held at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne in 2OO2. The exhibition brought the memory of station massacres into disquieting view, and propelled Bedfords work to national acclaim. Bedford spent much of his life working as a stockman, or ranch hand, before starting to paint in 1998 when he was in his late seventies. His earliest works conformed closely to the East Kimberley style pioneered by Rover Thomas and Paddy Jaminji in the early 198Os. Bedford quickly mastered the style, fashioning his own distinctive blend of austerity, meandering line and stark color combinations. Bedford introduced a new expressionism to East Kimberley painting. In 2OO6, he was the subject of a major touring retrospective organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. His works are held in most major collections in Australia, as well as important collections in Europe and American. In 2OO4, he was one of eight artists invited to create designs to adorn the Muse e du quai Branly in Paris.

    JANANGGOO BUTCHER CHERELGOONIYANDI/GIJA LANGUAGES. BORN c.1918. DIED 2OO9.Jananggoo Butcher Cherels career was defined by restless innovation. Cherel was born around 192O at Jalnganjoowa, near the homestead at Fossil Downs Station. His mother was Gija, his father Gooninyandi. Like many Indigenous people, Cherel was a polyglot, speaking his parents tongues, as well as Walmajarri and Bunuba. Working for most of his life as a cowboy, Cherel began painting regularly in the early 199Os, following the establishment of the Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency in Fitzroy Crossing. As one of the most senior elders of the Gooniyandi, he was instrumental in the revival of ceremony at the Muludja community where he spent his final years. Cherel was passionate about traditional culture and law, but he was also a committed and reflexive artist, challenging himself to find new ways to express his heritage and experiences in pictorial form. A master of turning complex designs into coherent visual statements, Cherels attention to detail can be seen through delicately detailed recurring elements, such as bush plums (girndi), which work in concert to create exquisite tapestries of motion. In Cherels hand, these graphically idiosyncratic experiments in color and form become the sublime device for combining deep cultural knowledge with astute observation of the natural world. In 2OO5, he was declared a Living Treasure by the Western Australian State Government, and in he 2OO6 he was selected as a finalist in the prestigious Clemenger Contemporary Art Award at the National

    Artist Biographies


  • Gallery of Victoria. His works are held in the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, along with numerous important collections in Australia and the U.S.


    Known as Midpul to his Larrakia kin, there is some debate as to how Prince of Wales acquired his royal epithet. Some suggest it was because he danced for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Darwin in 1963. More likely is that it was because he was the son of King George (Imabul) and grandson of King Miranda, the recognized leader of the Larrakia at the time of the British arrival in Darwin. Midpul never ascended to King because by the time he became leader of the Larrakia, the patronizing colonial practice of crowning Indigenous leaders had been eliminated. Irrespective, Midpul was a proud and important leader of his people. In 1971, he and his brothers mounted a public protest to have parts of Darwin declared a Larrakia reserve, and later he was actively involved in the successful Kenbi Land Claim. Despite suffering a stroke that paralyzed most of his left side, Midpul began painting in 1995, drawing his inspiration from the body markings used in ceremonial rituals. Although the Larrakia had a long artistic tradition, Midpul was the first artist to seek a sustained engagement with the contemporary art world. Without any template to work from, he produced works of singular poetry and grace; restrained yet visceral; tremulous yet compellingly assured. Compared to the tight-knit dot- paintings of the Central desert, Midpuls paintings were a revelation. Across stark, unmodulated grounds, his marks hover like ghostly fingerprints. Haptically direct, these marks offer a stark evocation of the body in movement, creating a haunting metaphor for the memory ancient rituals burnished into the ether of time. In 2OO1, Midpul was awarded the general painting prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. His works are held in most state collections in Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the National Gallery of Victoria.


    Tommy Mitchells painting career was short but bright. From the moment he began painting in 2OO5, his skill as a colorist was evident to all, catapulting him to instant acclaim. From the onset, his paintings revealed a remarkable sophistication, confidence and grace. Born around 1943 near Papulankutja in the Gibson Desert, Mitchells early style was influenced by his family members Arthur Tjatitjarra Robertson and Tjunka Lewis. Mitchell quickly found his own voice, drawing upon his intimate experience of Ngaanyatjarra country, which he traversed on foot as a child. These recollections are transformed into glowing fields of overlapping dots, which Mitchell alternately groups into patchwork grids or cascading fountainesques. An important lawman, Mitchell was a central figure at the Warakurna Art Centre. As the art of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands rose to prominence, Mitchell was quickly recognized as one of the regions most uni