Wakartu Cory Surprise is the overall winner of the third Western Australian Indigenous Art Award, worth $50,000, for her group of paintings.

Also winner of last year’s $10,000 Western Australian artist award, Surprise continues to make intense and vibrant paintings that speak eloquently of her country.

Her four works are presented as a spectacular group, their colour irradiating the space around to create a projection of her country that invades the gallery.

For a non-indigenous person reading these paintings, there is a wonderful resonance between the shapes and colours that describe her country and the formal qualities of picture-making from British painters working in the 1960s such as Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost.

Many of the formal elements in the early work of those painters were a direct response to their environment in St Ives in Cornwall.

Shapes were derived from boats and maritime equipment, from the rocky coastline, the sea, bird life and flora, with their sharply defined forms and brilliant colours a result of the clear, intense Cornish light.

In a state gallery with a good collection of British painting from this period, there is ample evidence of this universal need to connect with place.

Veteran curator Wally Caruana famously reported how another Kimberley artist, Rover Thomas, reacted on seeing a painting by American artist Mark Rothko for the first time. “Who that bugger who paints like me?” Thomas said, and Surprise might have a similar reaction to the work of Heron, Hilton and Frost.

However, as Caruana perceptively observed, such a comment from an artist would more likely be in recognition of a shared compulsion to establish a sense of belonging, rather than any formal similarities in their work.

Until January 3, 2011. Admission free. Inquiries: (08) 9492 6600.