Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wandjina Karma

I didn't see much aboriginal art in our Kimberley trip but we did swim in a beautiful waterhole which had this Wandjina figure under a canopy on a side rock face.

Strangly I'd gone to the N/West with only one idea in mind if I was to buy any local art - and that was to buy a Wandjina figure. I'd waited twenty years for this. In the late 80's a local West End based Indigenous artist,Vanessa Fisher, had had an exhibition in a local hall - the Jagera centre - and she had a painting there which I fell in love with but couldn't bring myself to own. It felt too powerful, too spiritual and though mesmerised by it, I felt not ready to live with it. It haunted me for many years and though Vanessa offered to paint me another one this didn't feel right either.

So here I was in Wandjina country.

I saw a beautiful print in a local cafe on the day I arrived but decided to wait and see if anything else presented itself in the three weeks I'd be on the road.We visited four key galleries over that 3 weeks, one of which showed only Wandjina paintings and the others none. It is a very localised image. Still none of these captured me. The rock art piece, on the other hand, had exactly the presence I'd felt with Vanessa's painting. Spooky and of another world and time. I could hardly chip it from the rock face so I photographed it as best I could.

On arriving back in Broome I knew it was the screen print which was still closest to what I wanted so I approached the cafe with some excitement, scanned the walls and it was nowhere to be seen. SOLD. It had been on that wall for 6 months and I'd missed my opportunity.

With one last day in Broome Andrea and Pauline suggested I visit a particular gallery in the old part of town which they were impressed by. It seemed ethical and well informed they said.

I set off by myself while they cruised the Saturday market and spotted the place they were obviously talking about. I hesitantly enquired if they had any Wandjina paintings. There was a pause and then a confirmation. We happen to have only one and it happens to be here from the stockroom on the other side of town as someone else was also asking after Wandjinas. I was not being followed but being preceded it seemed.

The young girl, who was not a local but was very enthusiastic and well informed, fetched it from the backroom and hey presto, there it was. A big bold, in your face, take me if you dare painting that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Yep. This was the one.

Price? Well to cut a long story short about 10 times what the print would have cost. I hesitated, thought I should probably consult my beloved Andrea about a four figure purchase and then thought bugger it. I'll take it, I blurted out. Later I asked Denis if he would be able to be in the room when I told Andrea. My human shield.

As it turned out I had misjudged my beloved's care and understanding about my quest and it was cool.

Strangely, when I took Andrea to see the painting the next morning, in the hour long window of opportunity we had before we were to board our flight to Brisbane, it turned out I'd gone to the wrong gallery. I'd chosen a tin shed. Theirs was a shiny slick place next door.

As well as that it seems that despite my lack of research, my impulse buy was informed by good karma - the artist turns out to be a highly regarded senior painter in the Wandjina tradition - Lily Karadada.

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June Saville said...
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June Saville said...

Such a powerful image ...
The Kimberley is magic isn't it? A few years ago I was privileged to accompany a friend of mine in a trip to Aboriginal communities across the Kimberley and we even attended the Kimberley Land Council Meeting as invited guests.
To top off this experience I found my own magical painting in a gallery in Kunanurra.
There were dozens of works there, many beautiful, but I was stopped in my tracks with one in particular. A painting in ochre by a Kitja woman Sade Carrington, it depicts a scene from the Bungle Bungles. Mesmerising.

little hat said...

I'm off to Carnarvon Gorge on sunday. someone at work said to me this week: 'You like the bush don't you?' Well yes. Its magnificant.
To think I'd never been further west than Roma until my fifties. Since then trips to Winton, Alice Springs, Darwin, the Kimberley and next week Carnarvon Gorge. I'm making up for lost time.

Karen Tyrrell said...

Hi Steve, I'm yet to visit the Kimberley Region but you've Inspired me to consider it again. I wish you the Very Best with your Writing. Please join QWC and your local writing group... Karen http://www.karentyrrell