Kimberley Ochre Painters – The Old And New

Our next exhibition is an overview of three generations of Kimberley ochre painters. The collection contains some very traditional and well-known artists including Rover Thomas, Jack Britten, Hector Jandany, Henry Wambini and Queenie McKenzie.

Many of these artists have passed away now and they are now regarded as the most significant names of the East Kimberley ochre painting tradition. As ochre painters, they sourced materials from the natural environment to make their work - red and yellow earth oxides, black from ground charcoal, and white from pipeclay.

In terms of subject, many were painting extraordinary maps of the country from the Kimberley, particularly from the Warmun and Turkey Creek part of the East Kimberley. We've also had works from Jack Dale from the West Kimberley, works that he painted towards the end of his life.

You'll also see some fantastic contemporary works painted by living artists such as Freddie Timms, Charlene Carrington and Willie Kew.

New Generation

The third dimension of the exhibition is the new generation of painters like Marcia Purdie and June Peters. These artists are a direct line from their elders, people like Shirley Purdie and Queenie McKenzie.

They have continued the ochre traditions, painting with the same natural materials that their elders used. To the same extent, they're talking about the country that is familiar to them, their own home country, and maybe places where they go hunting with family.

They are painting some of the stories that the elders have also painted about. These are continuous stories, real historical stories as much as Dreaming stories.

Many of the places that they paint are either very significant because of their Dreaming, creation background. Others are important historically because they mark all sorts of events that happened for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley.

These places include massacre sites as well as routes that the indigenous stockmen used when they mustered cattle. All these are references to the landscape. The newer works are fresh and very small scale, compared to the older painters. So you can expect to see a range of works across a range of prices. It is an exhibition that includes some historically important names as well as rising stars from this painting tradition.

History of Kimberley Ochre Exhibitions

Over the years, we’ve exhibited a lot of the senior people from the Kimberley ochre painters. Freddie Timms and Jack Dale have held solo exhibitions at Japingka Gallery. Rover Thomas, Hector Jandany, and Queenie McKenzie have exhibited at Japingka, as well as at the gallery's predecessor at this site.  Their older works go right back to the mid and late 1980s when this gallery was called Birukmarri Gallery.

Some of the very early pieces were exhibited here and subsequently went into some of the major collections in Western Australia. There's a continuous history of those people exhibiting and the quality signifies just how important they have been over the years.

Works Exhibited For First Time

There are some works in this exhibition that haven't been on display before even though they were painted fifteen or twenty years ago. Some small works by Jack Britten and a very soft work by Hector Jandany would fall into this category. This is the first time they've seen by the public.

There really are some fantastic works in this show. I think my favourite is going to be the early Rover Thomas. It’s from around about 1984. It has all the traits that Rover Thomas became famous for and it’s an extraordinary work.

The exhibition opens on Friday 19th February and I hope you can see these works in the context of this special collection.

Read More: Australian Aboriginal Ochre Painting

View: Ochre Painters of The Kimberley