Exhibition News

Patrick Mung Mung and Betty Carrington at Gabrielle Pizzi, November 2007

story illustration
Published Thursday, 22 November 2007

In the currently flourishing art market the better works by accomplished Aboriginal artists are highly sought after - the exhibited works by Betty Carrington and Patrick Mung Mung have sold well and so they should.

Gold was first discovered in 1886 at Halls Creek (165 kms away) which quickly led to a gold rush. Turkey Creek was settled the following year, 1887, as a halfway resting place for changing and watering horses and camels that were making the long trek to the Wyndham and Halls Creek goldfields.

 Duncan Korkatain - image

Turkey Creek itself is a tributary of the Bow river, whereas Warmun is on the east side of the Great Northern Highway approximately 1 km south of Turkey Creek. Warmun is 800km south-west of Darwin and almost 900km east of Broome and was established during the 1970's by the Gija people. In 2005 it had a core population somewhere between 450-500 people during the dry and 600 or so during the wet season.

 Duncan Korkatain - image

However, the people in this area are no strangers to unemployment - partly as a result of the Pastoral Award of 1969 which was intended to redress the inequalities in pay and conditions afforded Aboriginal stockmen, but in fact contributed to the reduced demand for them instead. Warmun has a diverse mix of cultures and languages due to the different tribes who then settled in the one geographic area.

Prior to the incursion of Europeans, the indigenous people had developed a significant degree of linguistic and cultural diversity. Several languages were spoken within quite small areas and this is evident with Kija spoken around Turkey Creek, Miriwoong around Kununurra and an overlap of Jaru and Kija near Halls Creek over a distance of 400km.(from Warmun Community Layout Plan No. 2 Planning Report, September 2005, by Roger Stein)

With their rich cultural heritage the local artists of the East Kimberleys gradually moved to a western medium for painting using plywood boards and ochres. This began with the most famous of all Kimberly artists Paddy Jaminji, later supported by Rover Thomas, then Jack Britten and Queenie McKenzie. Back in 1975 Rover Thomas and his uncle Paddy Jaminji began painting symbols from the the opening of the Gurirr Gurirr (Kril Kril) ceremony, first performed in Warmun in the late 1970s, on pieces of plywood painted with ochre and carried on the shoulders of participants. The then Manager of Aboriginal Traditional Arts in Perth began to market these artists' work around 1983–84. In 1992 Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi held the first commercial exhibition of the Warmun Art Centre.

In the currently flourishing art market the better works by accomplished Aboriginal artists are highly sought after - the exhibited works by Betty Carrington and Patrick Mung Mung have sold well and so they should. The works by both artists is especially notable for the use of beautifully coloured ochre fields of tans, fawns, reds, whites and charcoal black all mixed with glue and water to produce semi-transparent layers which, when handled successfully, create subtle tonal shifts across the canvas.

Patrick Mung Mung was born in the 1940's and worked for many years as a stockman at a number of cattle stations in the Kimberleys including the well known station Texas Downs - in fact, he was born there and was the last worker to leave Texas Downs when it closed in the 1970's. In this exhibition, the works by Patrick Mung Mung are visually challenging, with asymmetric organic patterns and shapes delineated from the broader field by narrow bands of dots enclosing tonally distinct zones. The works are consistent in quality and the larger works have a fluidity of movement across the surface of the canvas. Works such as Ngarrgoorroon (cat.24) or Yonoori (cat.22) are elegant, colourful, carefully balanced as well as composed. The ochre wash provides a texture that delicately communicates both the fragility and beauty of the desert environment.

 Duncan Korkatain - image

Betty Carrington was also born at Texas Downs, around 1945 and is the longtime partner of Patrick Mung Mung. The quality of her work is a little more variable than Patrick's - especially in some of the smaller pieces which are not that notable. However, in her larger works the execution is far more successful. Of particular note, the most eye catching paintings in the exhibition is the study and final versions of Mistake Creek. Mistake Creek was the site of the massacre of seven or eight aborigines who were shot because it was believed they were cooking up a stolen cow - in fact, they were cooking a local 'roo'. In Betty's work a black mask covers most of the canvas with an oval shaped insert marking the place of the murder. Four simple boab (bottle) trees stand over the site - the painting is quite oriental in effect and is exquisitely visually different from the other paintings in this exhibition.

 Duncan Korkatain - image

The following is a brief but informative account of techniques used by the Warmun artists work:
Each painting is created using traditional ochre and natural pigments. The rock is crushed in stone bowls with the rounded end of a heavy steel rod and then sieved to remove any unwanted material. Crushing the rock is hard on the back and inevitably painful when fingers get in the way. Several blackened and bloodied fingernails and an hour later, a rock the size of a tennis ball is reduced to a fine powder. This powder is then mixed with a little water and PVA glue and applied to the canvas with whatever may be handy; a brush, a stick, or a gnarled finger. Charcoal is used in the same manner to achieve a midnight black. The result is breathtaking, a fusion of textures and colours, each unique and impossible to recreate. Each work comprises geometric figures; circles, half-circles, spirals and straight or curved lines. These shapes are often repeated and combined to create balanced patterns of great elaborateness. Never, however, have these patterns been regarded as pieces of abstract art by the Warmun artists. Rather they are used to share the stories particular to each tribe. (from The artists of the Kimberley capture more than just images, by Gemma Gadd)

Further Reading:

  • Mistake Creek (see Keith Windschuttle's account from the AFR, 2001, http://www.sydneyline.com/Mistake%20Creek.htm) and (Sir William Deane's [Gov.General from 1996-2001] rebuttal in the SMH, Nov 27 2002 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/26/1038274302698.html)
  • The artists of the Kimberley capture more than just images, by Gemma Gadd, in Eureka Street (http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/articles/0410gadd.html)
  • Warmun Art Centre (http://www.warmunart.com/centre.htm)

Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi is scheduled to have another exhibition of Warmun artists early in 2008.

By Martin Shub, November 2007

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