Menzies Art Brands



Rover Thomas was born in 1926 however did not begin painting until 1981. He was prompted by a senior kinsman, Paddy Jaminj (c1912-1996), who had had paintings commissioned by Mary Macha, a Perth-based field officer working for Aboriginal Arts and Crafts Pty Ltd, an organisation that was supported by the federal government. Thomas began painting motifs from the Krill Krill ceremony on to boards which would rest on the shoulders of the dancers during these ceremonies. The Krill Krill ceremonies involve public dances in which these painted boards are carried bearing motifs associated with the journeys of ancestral beings around the region. The local Warmun artists were encouraged to produce work that replicated the colours and patterns of the Krill Krill ceremony boards for commercial sale the transformation of the work from ritually specific to marketable forms was encouraged by the localised workings of federal government policy whichhad been broadly supportive of the development of an Aboriginal arts and crafts industry. 1

Rover Thomas and the artists around Turkey Creek developed a recognisable style through the use of natural ochres as opposed to the acrylic paints used by many other western desert artists. Thomas painted large fields of colour, which set his style apart from the detailed dot patterns that characterise a large quantity of Aboriginal art. Much of Thomas work incorporates landscapes and narratives rather than single icons. In his paintings, the land becomes an allegory for ancestral dramas, personal experiences and historical events.2

From the early 1980s onwards, the exposure and interest in Kimberley art gradually increased, for the next decade Thomas actively pursued a prolific artistic life. His status was fostered by the National Gallery of Australia and he became the first Aboriginal artist to whom a major retrospective was devoted. This led to Thomas being selected for the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1990 alongside fellow indigenous artist, Trevor Nickolls (1949-2012).

Claypan at Bedford Downs is a rendering of the landscape with which Thomas has a spiritual connection to, the landscape in which he grew up surrounded by. The painting expresses the artists love for the area and its harsh, natural beauty. The white dotted line represents the Canning Stock Route, a route which was used by Kimberley Cattlemen to traverse the Western Deserts. The Canning Stock Route runs from Halls Creek to Wiluna and is the longest historic stock route in the world. The track was named after Alfred Canning, who surveyed the route between 1906 and 1910 and, using local Aboriginal labour, sank 52 wells along the 1,781 kilometres it covers. This evocative painting is an outstanding example of Thomas minimalistic style.

Rover always spoke in his art and in other ways to the things that were important to him and they were always things that were based upon his own direct experience. His experience in turn was shaped and filtered by the rich cultural patterns he drew upon throughout his lifereflected in his preoccupation with country, both his own and, that which he had grown in his adult life. Though belied outwardly by his minimalist style, the country he depicted was rich in cultural and historical associations and personal significance. It was country of imminent life-giving potentialities and enduring significance.3


1.Thomas, N., Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture, Thames and Hudson, London, 1999, p.214

2. Caruana, W., Aboriginal Art, Thames and Hudson, Sydney 2003. p.177

3. Christensen, W., Rover Thomas: I Want to Paint, Heytesbury Pty Ltd, Perth, 2003, p.63


Caroline Jones MArtAdmin

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