Aboriginal Artists & Australian Indigenous Artwork

Cory Surprise Untitled Indigenous Painting

Aboriginal Artists – Australian Indigenous Artists

Indigenous Australian Aboriginal Art is the oldest ongoing form of artistic expression in the world. The earliest forms of Aboriginal art were rock carvings and paintings, body painting and ground designs. There are engravings on cave walls in Arnhem Land dating back at least 60,000 years. One of the largest collections of rock art is in the heritage listed Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia, where the rock engravings are thought to number in the millions.

Australian Aboriginal people have no written language of their own, and so the important stories central to the people’s culture are based on the traditional icons and information in the artwork, which go hand in hand with recounted stories, dance or song, helping to pass on vital information and preserve their culture. Aboriginal art on canvas and board only began 40 years ago. In 1971, Geoffrey Bardon a school teacher working with Aboriginal children in Papunya, noticed the Aboriginal men, while telling stories to others, were drawing symbols in the sand. He encouraged them to put these stories down on board and canvas, and there began the Aboriginal art movement.

A large proportion of contemporary Aboriginal art is based on important ancient stories and symbols centered on ‘the Dreamtime’ – the period in which Indigenous people believe the world was created. The Dreamtime stories are up to and possibly even exceeding 50,000 years old, and have been handed down through the generations. Paintings are also used for teaching: A painting (in effect a visual story) is often used by Aboriginal people for different purposes, and the interpretations of the iconography (symbols) in the artwork can vary according to the audience. So the story may take one form when told to children and a very different and higher level form when speaking to initiated elders.

Aboriginal art is regional in character and style, so different areas with different traditional languages approach art in special ways. Much of contemporary Aboriginal art can be readily recognised for the community where it was produced. Dot painting is specific to the Central and Western desert, cross-hatching and rarrk design and x-ray paintings come from Arnhem Land, Wandjina spirit beings come from the Kimberely coast. Preference for ochre paints is marked in Arnhem Land and east Kimberley. Other stylistic variations identify more closely to specific communities.

Wakartu Cory Surprise

Australian Indigenous Aboriginal Artist

Wakartu Cory Surprise was a highly regarded award-winning indigenous artist. Born in the Great Sandy Desert around 1929 she never knew her mother or father who died when she was a child.  Painting in acrylics, Cory’s themes included Dreamtime stories, waterholes and rockholes and the country of her mother and brother (Mayita). Wakartu Cory Surprise died in 2011.

“I was born at Tapu in the Great Sandy desert around 1929. Tapu is my father’s country and Kurtal is my mother’s country. My parents died when I was a baby. I grew up at Wayampajarti and that is my country now. I don’t remember my mummy or daddy. They passed away in the desert. When I was crawling, my sister-in-law Trixie took me to Christmas Creek. I was promised to one old man who had two wives. We had no clothes when we went in. We were frightened of the Station Manager so we ran away from that place. Two times we ran away to the desert.

I walked out from the bush as a young woman with my two brothers. We were living at Wayampajarti and around that country there. At Wayampajarti there is a jila (permanent waterhole) where Kalpartu (an ancestral snake) lives. When we lived out in the bush we learnt the law. We learnt where the water is, where our country is and where to find food. You have to be careful not to go to the wrong places because you might make the Kalpurtu (spirit snake) angry or the other ones like Kukurr, Murungkurr, Parlangan. You could make other people angry too. You need permission to go to other people’s country.

I went to the desert with my husband to look for kumanjayi (deceased) Pijaju out there, then we all came back for ceremony. My husband did contract work building fences. I followed him on those contracts. I worked as a camp cook. I cooked food for big mobs of people. I cleaned, cooked and milked goats. We worked at Quanbun Downs, Jubilee Station, Yiyili and Cherrabun Station. Then I lived mainly at one place, GoGo Station (near Fitzroy Crossing) until I was old. I came to Fitzroy Crossing in the 1950s. I have a big mob of kids and some of them have passed away now. I first started painting at Karrayili Adult Education Centre in the early eighties. We told our stories through painting and learned to speak to kartiya (European person). I also did painting at Bayulu community near Fitzroy Crossing. That’s how I told my story to kartiya. We worked on paper then, not canvas or board.

When I paint, I think about my country, and where I have been travelling across that country. I paint from here (points to head – thinking about country) and here (points to breasts, collarbone and shoulder blades – which is a reference to body painting). I think about my people, the old people and what they told me and jumangkarni (Dreamtime). When I paint I am thinking about law from a long time ago. I like painting, it’s good. I get pamarr (word for rock, stone money) for it. I can buy my food, tyres and fi x my car. I give some money to my family and I keep some for myself. Nobody taught me how to paint, I put down my own ideas. I saw these places for myself, I went there with the old people. I paint jilji (sand hills), jumu (soak water), jila (permanent waterhole), jiwari (rock hole), pamarr (hills and rock country), I think about mangarri (vegetable food) and kuyu (game) from my country and when I was there.”

JahRoc Galleries currently have no paintings by Wakartu Cory Surprise.

Visit Tunbridge Gallery for any works available

Billy Duncan

Australian Indigenous Aboriginal Artist

Billy Duncan’s art belongs to the iconic imagery of senior east Kimberley painters. His powerful, simplified forms are imbued with the energy of the sites of significance he paints.

Billy Duncan was born at Inverway Station in the Northern Territory in 1935. “Most of my life I have been droving cattle and working around the stations as a ringer and stockman. I used to come to Kununurra as a single bloke when I was younger, then I came here to live with my wife in the seventies.” After an accident during his stockman days, an injury to his knee forced Billy to change to working on farms in the Kununurra region. He has four children, two girls and two boys. Billy first started painting in the mid 1990’s.

JahRoc Galleries currently have no paintings by Aboriginal Artist Billy Duncan

Visit Tunbridge Gallery for any works available

Peggy Griffiths

Australian Indigenous Aboriginal Artist

Born to Dianah Dingle and Frank Moore on Newry Station, Peggy’s father left the family during her early childhood years. The station manager’s wife advised her mother to send Peggy to school at the Kimberley Research Station. At 15 her mother took her out of school to Argyle Station and told she had been promised in marriage to Alan Griffiths when she turned 16. Peggy and her future husband were told to leave and they moved to Kununurra. Today they have 5 children and many grandchildren all of whom have been taught traditional stories and culture.

Peggy Griffiths is well informed about her family and bush life around the Goodim community and Newry. It was here that she saw old people taken away from the camp with chains around their necks and here that she learned to dance all the traditional dances.

Peggy Griffiths began working with Waringarri Aboriginal Arts in 1985, carving and painting boab nuts and boomerangs. She progressed to painting on canvas and working with limited edition prints (and was the first indigenous artist to win the prestigious Fremantle Print Award) and is committed to keeping the stories of her grandfather, Charlie Mailman, alive. Peggy Griffiths and her husband Alan Griffiths often paint side by side and are key performers and teachers of corroboree and traditional dances for their community. They have travelled widely, performing traditional dancers at arts festivals and events

Peggy Griffiths is now one of the most senior women artists at Waringarri Arts, teaching other artists and was until recently and for many years the Chairperson of Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, a community owned and led organization for its members. Her works document the traditional country of her father and grandfather and her most recent works capture the movement of wind through this spinifex country.

JahRoc Galleries currently have no paintings by Aboriginal Artist Peggy Griffiths

Visit Tunbridge Gallery for any works available

Alan Griffiths

Australian Indigenous Aboriginal Artist

Alan Griffiths was born at Victoria River Station, Northern Territory in 1933. He remained there until 1957 when he left to move to Katherine. Here he was head stockman on Beswick Station and then on Elsey Station near Mataranka, Northern Territory as well as Maninbelli Station, Elizabeth Downs, Delamere and Willaroo. Moving onto Wyndham, Western Australia, Alan Griffiths worked as a plumber before settling on Newry Station, again as a stockman as well as a cook. In 1965 he settled in Kununurra, living at Ivanhoe Station operating a tractor on a cotton farm. Alan Griffiths is married to his ‘promised bride’, Peggy Griffiths, and together they have five children, 27 grandchildren and many great grandchildren.

After his retirement from farm work in the early 1980s Alan Griffiths began painting his native country, mapping the significant features and cultural stories of the land. His repertoire of images includes paintings that map and name this country reflecting the artist’s intimate knowledge. His paintings also document traditional stories and corroborees, cattle mustering and camel treks. Today Alan’s ‘signature’ style involves depicted small figures performing corroborees, painted in a playful naive style.

Together with his wife Peggy Griffiths, he is dedicated to teaching traditional dances to his community and family. Alan is a respected law and culture man for both his traditional country near Timber Creek and for Miriwoong culture in Kununurra.

JahRoc Galleries currently have no paintings by Aboriginal Artist Alan Griffiths

Visit Tunbridge Gallery for any works available

Djambawa Marawili AM

Australian Indigenous Aboriginal Artist

Djambawa Marawili is first and foremost a leader, and his art is one of the tools he uses to lead. His principal roles are as a leader of the Madarrpa clan, a caretaker for the spiritual well-being of his own and other related clan’s and an activist and administrator in the interface between non-Aboriginal people and the Yolnu (Aboriginal) people of North East Arnhem Land.

Djambawa Marawili is an artist who has experienced mainstream success (as the winner of the 1996 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award – Best Bark Painting Prize) and as an artist represented in most major Australian institutional collections and several important overseas public and private collections, but for whom the production of art is a small part of a much bigger picture.

As well as being the Chairman of ANKAAA’s Board of Directors (2000 – 2014), Djambawa Marawili AM (b.1953) has held numerous other positions, including Chairperson of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre (1994 – 2000), Chairperson of Laynhapuy Homelands Committee (1995 – 1997), Board Member of the Australia Council, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board (2004 – 2009) and Board Member of the Northern Land Council. In 2014 Djambawa was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.

In 2015 Djambawa Marawili continued to chair ANKAAA whilst also serving as deputy Chairman of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre and sitting on the board of Laynhapuy Homelands and the Northern Land Council. As ceremonial leader of the Madarrpa clan of North East Arnhem Land, Djambawa uses his art to communicate his wider socio-political aims, drawing on the strong foundations of Yolngu culture to educate, inspire and seek justice for his people.

Through various advocacy, administrative and educative roles, Djambawa acts as an interface between Yolngu and the wider non-Indigenous population of Australia. He was a participant in the production of the Barunga Statement (1988), which led to Bob Hawke’s promise of a treaty between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody (established in 1989) and the formation of ATSIC in 1990.

As he has consistently throughout his life, Djambawa uses painting to show the sacred designs that embody his right to speak as a part of the land, whether it be above ground or under the sea. He was instrumental in the initiation of the Saltwater: Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country exhibition, which toured nationally from 1999 – 2001. He co-ordinated the 2004 Sea Rights claim in the Federal Court which eventuated in the High Court’s determination that Yolngu did indeed own the land between high and low water mark (2008 Blue Mud Bay case).

Djambawa’s work is held in many important public and private collections including Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; JW Kluge Collection, Virginia, USA; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; President of India Art Collection; National Maritime Museum, Sydney; Northern Territory Supreme Court, Darwin; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Holmes a Court Collection and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.

JahRoc Galleries currently have no artworks by Aboriginal Artist Djambawa Marawili AM

Visit Tunbridge Gallery for any works available

Galuma Maymura

Australian Indigenous Aboriginal Artist

Galuma Maymura is the surviving daughter of the great Narritjin. Gamula was one of the first Yolnu women to be instructed to paint (by her father) the sacred clan designs that were previously the domain of high ranking men. In preparation for her solo exhibition of her art she prepared the following statement:

“This is what I really learnt from my father. First when I was still in school at Yirrkala he used to let me sit next to him, me and my brothers and he used to show us all the paintings from Wayawu and Djarrakpi. And he’d say this is our paintings and I’m telling you this about the paintings for in the future when I’m passed away you can use them.

Then I forgot all about this when I was in school- then I stopped but I was still thinking the way he was teaching us. Then one day I decided to start on a bark by helping him at Yirrkala. Every afternoon after work I used to sit with him and paint little barks – mostly from Djarrakpi but a little from the freshwater country at Wayawu but not Milnaywuy.

Then I was keep on doing it over and over on cardboard until my hand it gets better and better and I put it in my mind, then it was working and I kept on doing it.
I went to Djarrakpi with my family to live with my father and my mother and brothers. My brothers passed away and we had to go back to Yirrkala. I left my father and mother there when I went to live at Baniyala. My husbands family were living there. I was teaching at the Baniyala school still doing a little bit of painting but mainly schooling. When father and family died I stopped painting – just doing school work.

Once I moved to Dhuruputjpi in 1982 I started to paint again because no one else was doing it and I was thinking about the way my father was talking and how did he handle all this. How did my father do all this- travel and paint- how to handle painting so I kept on thinking. I’m not really prouding myself but I wanted to do this painting as my father did it and to keep it in my mind. But I really want this painting to keep going. My gurrun he is looking after it as his Mari (mothers mothers side) and others are looking after it. I have to teach my kids incase someone might steal the designs. So my kids can know what their mothers paintings is”

As a participant in the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Buwayak’ at Annandale Galleries in 2003 and a winner of that year’s Best Bark painting prize at the Telstra Aboriginal Art Awards her significance cannot be overstated. Galuma Maymura’s health problems have not stopped her from painting or living in remote homelands of Dhuruputjpi, Djarrakpi or Yilpara. She is a fierce advocate and mainstay of homeland life.

JahRoc Galleries currently have no paintings by Aboriginal Artist Galuma Maymura
Visit Tunbridge Gallery for any other works available