The legacy of western Arnhem Land artist Bardayal Nadjamerrek is assured. With a distinguished painting career spanning over forty years, he is without doubt one of the greatest artists Australia has ever produced. Since his childhood, Bardayal has had an intimate connection to the rock art of western Arnhem Land. Born around 1926 in the Mann River region, he began his artistic career under the instruction of his father Yanjorluk, who taught him to paint on the rock shelters in his clan estates. After being drafted into indentured labour as a miner, timber worker and buffalo shooter, in 1969 Bardayal began to paint commercially working on bark, paper and more recently canvas. Bardayal Nadjamerrek is recognised as the foremost exponent of the x-ray style of painting. In October, the National Gallery of Australia will feature Bardayal as one of ‘the big guns’ at the inaugural National Indigenous Art Triennial. Brenda Croft, Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, has commented that ‘although his hand is now somewhat unsteady … the stature of his figures – creation beings and totemic animals – remains unchallenged.’ He has created an indelible body of works that testify to his immense knowledge of traditional country and lore. They reveal him to be an artist of singular vision whose narrative sophistication and ethereal sense of morphology have made him a living treasure.
After forty years of exhibiting, however, Continuity: Culture, Country and Family is perhaps one of Bardayal’s most historic and important exhibitions. In the twilight years of his career, Bardayal has given the world a new gift. Taking five of his grandsons under his tutelage, he has instituted his own cultural revival – teaching his young grandchildren the stories and single-line rarrk (hatching) technique that has defined his practice.
Bardayal’s art has always testified to his lifelong engagement with culture and country. Unlike many of the artists of western Arnhem Land, who make use of multi-coloured cross-hatching to infill their works, Bardayal elects to use single parallel line hatching in accordance with his rock-country heritage. In this way, Bardayal testifies to his direct connection to the rock-art of his stone country home, positioning himself in the direct artistic lineage of this 50,000 year-old tradition. Many commentators have suggested that this single-line technique would end with old men like Bardayal. In an act of singular cultural strength, he has taken it upon himself to ensure the continuation of the ‘old-style’ – resting it in the hearts of his young grandsons and granddaughters. Over the past few years, Bardayal has worked hard to teach his grandchildren their culture – taking them into their country, familiarizing them with important rock-art sites, and teaching them to paint on the rock faces in the way that he was taught by his father. Through his efforts, Bardayal has sought to preserve and continue the great artistic traditions of the art of the stone country.
Alongside the work of Bardayal Nadjamerrek and his grandsons, Continuity also features the work of Bardayal’s son Freddie Nadjamerrek and his son-in-law Gabriel Maralngurra. Like many artists of his generation, Gabriel employs the cross-hatching method of rarrk. Born at Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) in 1968, Gabriel was taught to paint by senior artist Thompson Yulidjirri – one of the pioneers of the cross-hatching style. Like Thompson and Bardayal, Gabriel paints with a great reverence for the traditional stories of his people. A strong community leader at Gunbalanya, Gabriel is one of the few people to have completed year twelve studies through School of the Air, and has acted as president and treasurer for the community art centre Injalak Arts and Crafts. In 2006, Gabriel held an acclaimed solo exhibition at Mossenson Galleries Carlton, from which six works were acquired by public collections. Gabriel was subsequently awarded the 2007 Melbourne Fringe Festival Wilin Centre Award for Best Indigenous Artist. Whilst Gabriel’s work may appear to diverge from that of Bardayal, Gabriel’s adherence to traditional stories and his respect for the stories of his ancestors assure his art a vital position in the continuity of Kunwinjku art. A proud father, Gabriel has expressed his excitement to be exhibiting alongside his son, Maath Maralngurra, in this important exhibition. The exhibition also features Allan Nadjamerrek, Gavin Namarnyilk, Freddie Nadjamerrek, Ray Nadjamerrek, Simone Nadjamerrek and Bardyal’s wife Mary Nadjamerrek.
Artist: allan nadjamerrek, bardayal lofty nadjamerrek, freddie nadjamerrek, gabriel maralngurra, gavin namarnyilk, maath maralngurra, mary nadjamerrek, ray nadjamerrek, simone nadjamerrek
Category: Exhibition ,
Gallery: Mossenson Gallery ,