Menzies Art Brands



Paddy Bedford was a Gija man, born in the cattle on Bedford Downs station in the East Kimberley and named after his boss, Paddy Quilty. The artist was also known among his peers as Goowoomji or simply PB. Bedford Downs and the surrounding landscape was the source of many Gija Dreamings which Paddy Bedford depicts in his bold, unique canvases. Joowarringayin - Devil Dreaming was painted by Bedford in 2000, just two years after he began his artistic practice.  He continued his remarkably prolific and innovative work until his passing in 2007 at the age of around eighty five.

Although Paddy Bedford had experienced painting as part of ceremonial activities, he first began creating his own artworks following the establishment of the Jirrawun Aboriginal Art group in 1998. Bedford had spent most of his life working as a road builder and stockman on Bedford Downs Station however was forced to leave in the early 1970s when the introduction of Pastoral Award legislation saw the eviction of many Aboriginal workers. This legislation ensured equal wages for black and white stockmen however resulted in the dismissal and consequential displacement of many Aboriginal men and women. Paddy Bedford retired to the Warmun Aboriginal community at Turkey Creek and it was here that he became acquainted with the artist Freddie Timms and art dealer Tony Oliver, the founder of Jirrawun Arts.

Paddy Bedfords paintings have become known for their bold, yet minimalist style large fields of colour broken by heavy lines and shapes. The artists earlier works feature expansive canvases in black and white overlayed with ochre lines and patterns that are his own depictions of the country from which he came, its people and their Dreamings. Certain narratives in Paddy Bedfords paintings feature recurrent motifs however each canvas reworks these symbols and colours, each time creating a beautiful, unique composition.

Joowarringayin - Devil Dreaming depicts the site of Donkey Springs Devil Dreaming, Joowarringayin. This area is located south-west of Bedford Downs and is identified by a creek bed running between high, sheer cliffs. The story is from his mothers country whose birthplace was nearby at Wirndoowoon. According to the artist, this was a place of dangerous Devil Devil Dreaming.1

In the short amount of time which Bedford was creating his work, he garnered an enormous amount of recognition and success from both critical and commercial circles. In 2004, The Muse du Quai Branly in Paris commissioned Bedford to create a work for the building which features the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. His work Emu Dreaming was reproduced in ceramic-fired glass as a permanent installation on the ground floor of the museum, which opened in June 2006. A major retrospective exhibition of Paddy Bedfords was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 200607. Following the opening of the exhibition, art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald wrote of Bedford: If one had to choose a single indigenous artist to represent the state of Aboriginal art, it would be hard to go past Paddy Bedford.2  

Paddy Bedfords works have been described as self portraits in which his spirit, physicality and identity are embedded as much in canvas as in the land that shaped him.3 Contained within his paintings are the history and experiences of Aboriginal and European interaction in the East Kimberley and the ngarranggarni, that great force that contains all things that are, have been and will be. Paddy Bedfords paintings contain more than literal narratives, his creations contain his personal sense of the natural world and its order.

1. Storer, R., Paddy Bedford, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2006 p.134
2. McDonald, J., Paddy Bedford, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 November 2006
3. Tony Oliver, quoted in Paddy Bedford, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2007, p.12

Caroline Jones MA (Art Admin.)

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