There are two very worthwhile exhibitions on in the West right now, and if you’re not able to make it the good folks there have also reproduced these exhibitions online: Desert Song and the Pike Family.

The first exhibition, Desert Song, brings together 25 women artists from across the Western and Central Desert artists including Esther Giles Nampitjinpa, Lorna Ward Napanangka, Walangkura Napanangka, Yinarupa Gibson Nangala, Ningura Napurrula, Eileen Napaltjarri and Minnie Pwerle. It looks at the links between Indigenous Art and the associated Culture and Stories of the ancient ‘Songlines’ of Australia and how they inform the remarkable paintings on display in this breathtaking and informative exhibition of Indigenous paintings from all around Australia.

Running alongside this exhibition is the very interesting, Pike Family.

Jimmy Pike (1940-2002) was a great story-teller and illustrator of the traditional lifestyle as he experienced it, living as a young man with his family in the Great Sandy Desert. As a teenager he followed most of his countrymen who had begun moving north into cattle station country (the Fitzroy Valley). They had heard of the abundant food and water there, and the desert was steadily being depopulated as the northward migration of families continued.

During the ’90s, Jimmy Pike became a very well-known artist; he was a prolific drawer (using multi-coloured felt pens), a painter, a printmaker, and a designer for textiles and silk goods. His stories of the desert thus became everyday items in wider Australia.

It’s interesting to note that the organising gallery of this exhibition, Japingka, which had a 30-year association with Jimmy Pike and his family, was so named because of a site in the Great Sandy Desert where the Walmajarri people, including Jimmy Pike’s clan, came together. It was during the dry season that the people followed the movements of animals or the flowering of bush plants to find places of greatest food supply, moving between waterholes in small family groups so as not to drain the resources. It was during the northern cyclone season when the storms would roll into the desert that these waterholes would be replenished, and the land revived.

Usually around Christmas, when there was enough food and water for all the people to be in one place, they would come together and manage all social and marital business, and carry out ceremonies and rituals. Relatives would meet each other after a year’s absence, so it was a time of great significance.

In the desert waterholes need to be maintained and land needs to be managed by patchwork burning. As the population dwindled from people leaving the desert, the land itself became less productive, the waterholes were covered over with drifting sand and the larger animals disappeared. The time-honoured balance between man and the land was interrupted.

Thirty years after his family left the desert, Jimmy Pike began recording his memories in paintings and in books written with his wife, Pat Lowe. He painted for about 22-years and his artworks were represented in major collections, both nationally and internationally.

At the time of Jimmy Pike’s death, his brother Edgar Pike began painting some works at his small community at Ngumpan. Edgar was about 5 or 6 years younger than Jimmy, and said that he remembered fewer stories of his family life in the desert. But the great oral tradition of the desert life was compelling, and the people had begun making journeys back into the old country, revisiting the sacred sites and major waterholes. Edgar Pike’s paintings recorded some of the major sites that his brother had been painting previously.

Edgar Pike’s daughter, Francine Steele developed into a skilled artist in her own right and although early in her career, her paintings are distinctive and impressive.

Jimmy Pike began his career in Fremantle before the Japingka Gallery was formed, his first drawings and limited edition prints were created in the early 1980s.

Now the artworks of Edgar and Francine are brought together with Jimmy Pike’s, and include Jimmy’s rare prints and silk scarves.

See the Exhibitions online at Japingka Desert Song and the Pike Family