Queenie McKenzie Paintings
Queenie McKenzie (1915-1998), born Old Texas Downs, East Kimberley, famous Aboriginal artist.
Queenie McKenzie (1915- 1998) was the first woman artist to become famous amongst the high profile male artists from the East Kimberley. Queenie McKenzie was a long-term friend of Rover Thomas, whose work epitomised the style of ochre painting from the Warmun region. Queenie had worked with Rover on Texas Downs station in the early years of their working lives.
As a young woman, Queenie McKenzie was cook for the stockmen on the cattle station, and she well remembered a drama where she saved Rover’s life in 1954. Rover Thomas had fallen from a moving horse and had lost the top of his scalp. Queenie had sewn his scalp back on so well that doctors were amazed that a novice was so skilled. Later Queenie used the story as a subject for some of her paintings.
Queenie McKenzie was born on the cattle station at Old Texas Downs around 1915. The station is located on the Ord River, south-east of Turkey Creek in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Queenie grew up among Gija people and spoke Gija as her first language. Her mother was a Malgin/Guridji woman and her father a white man. Her father wanted to take her away but her mother said; “You’re not taking my baby away. I keep ‘im here. He’s my baby not yours.”
Local stories tell that Queenie’s mother rubbed her with charcoal so that her light skin would not be noticed. Later they moved to the new Texas Downs site, and police tried to take Queenie away as was the practice with half-caste children at the time. Queenie’s parents must have put up a good argument because their child was not taken.
In later life Queenie McKenzie and her husband moved to the settlement at Warmun in the 1970’s. Queenie did not have children of her own but was surrogate mother to many other children whose mothers were unable to look after them. A strong member of the Warmun community, McKenzie was a councillor and taught Gija language at the school. She had always taken an active part in the ceremonial life, being both a good singer and dancer.
Rover Thomas inspired Queenie McKenzie to begin painting. She liked to use natural pigments that included the soft pink and pale violet colours that she made from ochres that she dug from the ground. Queenie stated that these colours appealed to her sense of beauty.
Queenie McKenzie exhibited widely and her works are represented in major collections including the Australian National Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of Western Australia, and the Berndt Museum of Anthropology (University of Western Australia). Towards the close of her life Queenie McKenzie was declared a State Living Treasure for her unique contribution to the arts and culture and the teaching of the Gija language. A selection of paintings by Queenie McKenzie is available from Japingka Gallery, where collectors can buy Aboriginal art online with certainty of quality, authenticity and provenance of art works.
Aboriginal art status – Highly collectable artist.
1991 Art Gallery of New South Wales (touring)
1991, 1992, 1993 1998 Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory, Darwin
1992, 1994, 1996, 1997 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
1994, 1998 Old Parliament House, Canberra
1994 1996 Fremantle Arts Centre, Western Australia
1996, 1997 William Mora Gallery, Melbourne
1997 Songlines Art Gallery, San Francisco, USA
1999 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, USA
1999 Myer Gantner Collection, USA
2000 Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide