Ginger Riley Munduwalawala,
Limmen Bight River Country (1992).
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, bought 1992.
On display until December 6.

IN the 1950s Ginger Riley Munduwalawala was working as a stockman, droving cattle from the vast stations of the Northern Territory to South Australia, when he had a chance meeting in the desert with pioneering artist Albert Namatjira.

Riley admired Namatjira’s watercolour paintings, especially his depiction of the traditional country and his innovative use of colour, dominated by reds, blues, purples and greens.

Later, Riley said that when he saw Namatjira’s work he was inspired to paint the colours of his own country. It wasn’t until 30 years later, however, when Riley was nearly 50, that he finally had the opportunity to start painting. He quickly established the bold, experimental style that brought him recognition locally and internationally and earned him the soubriquet “the boss of colour”.

Riley’s use of colour sets him apart from other indigenous artists, and that use has attracted criticism. Riley’s paintings do not fit with mainstream forms of contemporary art, nor do his paintings fit with traditional notions of Aboriginal art. According to Judith Ryan, senior curator of indigenous art at the National Gallery of Victoria, Riley’s superlative colour sense sits uneasily with the ochre tones of Arnhem Land and the tough works by politically aware, city-based indigenous artists. Even Riley once commented that his paintings “look different from (those of) the other mob”.