Kurun Warun – Stones, Eels and Harmonious Landscape

Kurun Warun is an Australian indigenous artist whose family originally comes from the western coastal region of Victoria. This is his first solo exhibition in Western Australia. He’s produced some fantastic images where we experience the feeling of being in the Australian landscape, and other paintings that refer to ceremonial traditions in Aboriginal society.

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Kurun Warun - Dry River Bed

A lot of the paintings conjure up the sense of dry river beds found throughout Australia. We get those wonderful, dry, stony colours, the textures and the structures. You can see the edge of the earth in the river bank. A number of those images refer to meandering river lines that go through the Australian landscape and seem to drag the terrain with them. You’ll see these wandering lines, and these markers of colour that are following the river.

Kurun Warun also tells a great story about the eels in his part of the country. They move upstream using the stones to find their way against the current, up the creek to get back to their breeding and feeding grounds. They latch on to the stones and move from one stepping stone to the next, moving against the waterflow in the creek. He refers to this as eels biting stones.

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Kurun Warun -Dry River Camp

In the middle of all the dry river imagery, we’ve got two large paintings called “Living with Water,” in blue and gold. They refer to a coastal lifestyle with the abundance of fish and seafood – the food culture that goes with living next to the ocean. He’s created two beautiful landscape paintings based around that subject.

It’s a very strong show. It’s a big show. When the artist sent us the work, he sent the paintings in four or five shipments. As it steadily came together, and as we brought it into the gallery, we could see the coherent and fantastic statement about landscape and culture, and about his own place in the country. It works so well.

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Kurun Warun - Thagang Poonart

The part of Western Victoria that Kurun Warun comes from is a location that’s quite rich in archaeological sites. In that area they’re finding fish traps and eel traps, and the signs of encampments. It is archaeological evidence of communities building and sustaining traditional Aboriginal occupation there.

Some of the paintings, when you look at them, feel like they are design layouts made in a natural environment. They could either be layouts for a garden or a living space, almost like an architect’s drawings for an enticing space to live in, or an attractive landscape to walk through. And in some ways, I think that the planning in the paintings is saying something about the environment where traditional people come from.

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Kurun Warun - Living With Water

There’s another group of paintings called “Matang”, which are about ceremonial markings and body markings. They refer back to the way Aboriginal people used symbolic markings on their bodies when they carried out ceremonies, maybe to engage with the greater forces of the country, the spiritual force of the country.

These Matang paintings have rows of parallel lines, with the colours bouncing across the varoius sections created as parallel spaces. It’s a bit like looking at the landscape through Venetian blinds. In some places you can see the strength of parts of the landscape, and in other places it all gets dissipated as it moves between several different colours. This raises the idea of body markings that link the ceremonial dancers back to the country that they come from, and makes the link between landscape and the people.

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Kurun Warun - Dry River Camp

These paintings seem like a personal reinterpretation of the landscape, or management of the landscape, so that it’s covered with markings that are man-made. There’s a shimmer that comes from the landscape all through the paintings. It’s a fascinating series.

I feel very connected and quite at ease sitting in the gallery space with Kurun Warun’s paintings. In the gallery, they wrap around you like a big landscape. They change from one painting to the next, but they seem very harmonious as a group.

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Kurun Warun Exhibition - Gallery 1

And they seem to conjure up the uniqueness of Australian landscape. There’s something about the bleached colours, the stoniness and the broken shapes. There’s some use of dots, but there’s also use of dashes and other bands of colour that break up the canvas. I feel that I’m looking at a very coherent and strong body of paintings which have a wonderful impact on me as I sit here looking at them.

You can see Kurun Warun’s first solo exhibition at Japingka Gallery until 29 March.