True Colours assembles fifty paintings by twenty-one artists from the remote community of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia. The exhibition includes work by key artists such as Spider Snell, winner of the 2004 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Art Award, and Daisy Andrews, also a previous Telstra winner. Senior artists Butcher Cherel, Dolly Snell, Paji Honeychild [1925-2004], Mona Chuguna, Peter Skipper and Stumpy Brown are also represented, as are an emerging generation of painters exemplified by a new generation of young artists such as Terry Murray and Andrea Pindan. In examining the use of unbridled colour from any point in the spectrum, the exhibition suggests a rejection of convention by Fitzroy Crossing artists, and effectively contests ideas of true colours in contemporary practice. The catalogue published to accompany the exhibition contains an essay examining ideas of colour within Fitzroy Crossing and wider contexts.

FITZROY CROSSING is surrounded by the floodplains of the Fitzroy River, approximately 2524 km north of Perth, and 400 km east of Broome. The current population is around 1200 people, representing four main language groups within the Fitzroy Valley: Bunuba, Wangkajungka, Gooniyandi, Walmajarri. Fitzroy Crossing also services over thirty smaller communities and outstations situated in the region. This area of the Kimberley is currently subject to intense development and mining pressures, including proposals to dam the Fitzroy River and its tributaries for the cultivation of cotton and other crops.

The region is characterized by a semi-arid monsoonal climate, with marked Wet and Dry Seasons, although local people observe and pay homage to more than these two seasons in their painting. Regional vegetation features riverine eucalypt woodlands, savannah grasslands which are frequently burned during the Dry Season, and pockets of fire-sensitive flora in spectacular limestone ranges formed from an ancient coral reef system 350 million years ago during the Devonian Period.

To the south of Fitzroy Crossing lies a vast region of jila (permanent springs), made up of jumu (soakage), wirrkuja (rockhole) and jiwari (claypan), all important seasonal water sources, and jilji (sand dunes), known to Europeans as the Great Sandy Desert. Mangkaja members have traditional connections to this region, and regularly use its natural resources, gathering jarramba (freshwater crustacean), fish, native turkey, goanna and many varieties of plant food. Artists such as Butcher Cherel paint girndi, a sweet black fruit found in the region, while bush tucker features strongly in the work of Nipper Rogers and Dolly Snell.

MANGKAJA ARTS RESOURCE AGENCY, the local community-owned and operated art centre, was built following adult literacy classes in the mid 1980s. Its name comes from a Walmajarri word for the wet season shelters scattered throughout the desert. The centre itself has had to weather funding issues, closure and re-opening, but is now a thriving base for artists, providing valuable skills training, education and sources of income. Collaborative approaches between the centre and interstate representatives has steadily built a national profile for the artists, some of whom are internationally renowned for having played a crucial role at the forefront of New Wave painting since the 1980s. Major recurring themes in Mangkaja art are focussed on jila, jumu, wirrkuja and jiwari and their creation, use and management as key water resources. As part of a community and industry partnership, DELL Gallery is pleased to have the art centre’s support, along with major project sponsorship from Suzanne O’Connell Australian Indigenous Art.