Last Tango in Wyndham

“MORE dream than building, its white outline gleams against the stunted boabs, the far ranges and the hazy, smoke-stained sky. A mad fantasy from the last reel of some outback Fitzcarraldo, a declaration of cultural autonomy in steel and glass, a white cube of Gija modernism: the new studio of Jirrawun artists in north Kimberley is each of these things, but above all else it is a temple, rising amid the salt-flats and the scrub

"Here I am," it says. "Leave your preconceptions behind. Forget everything you knew. This is the way forward for Aboriginal art.''

No site could be better chosen for drama, and for concentrated meaning. It is the end of the road: Wyndham, the hottest port town in Australia, the place where seven great rivers meet, where the tallest mountains of the far north cluster round and rise to the Bastion, high above the still, steamy waters of the Cambridge Gulf. Here, in defiance of every convention and assumption in the indigenous culture game, a new order is being born. The most successful Aboriginal art corporation is reinventing itself.

The story behind it is well known. In the mid-1990s, at a gallery opening in Flinders Lane, Melbourne's contemporary art svengali Tony Oliver encountered Freddie Timms, a Gija painter from the distant East Kimberley. Timms felt he and his fellow artists were being ripped off. He invited his new friend to join the remote community at Crocodile Hole and set up a painting venture there.

Up went Oliver, eyes wide: he found jewels of art and culture, and a landscape of gorges, pink cliffs and social collapse. "The horror, the horror,'' muttered Oliver to himself, drunk with excitement, as he danced his way into the dark, seductive depths of the Gija world.” 

Nicolas Rothwell*

Tony Oliver after a decade facilitating ambitious ventures and uncompromising exhibitions with the Gija artists has left the building - those familiar with the story are poised to see what happens next in Wyndham, is this Oliver's 'Last tango in Wyndham' can the artists under new stewardship continue to amaze? The works in the exhibition 'Last Tango in Wyndham' are from Oliver's most recent studio sessions with the artists, Freddie Timms, Goody Barrett, Phyllis Thomas, Rammey Ramsey and Rusty Peters.

The Jirrawun vision started with a dream, Tony Oliver played a major role helping the artists realize this dream.

Meanwhile the artists have continued to paint at the studio and moves are afoot to make the Jirrawun presence known through various exhibitions in 2008. It could be Oliver's final stint in Wyndham however the Jirrawun vision does not end here and we wait to see how the story continues. 

Dallas Gold

“Darkness falls. The light fades. The cliffs gleam pink and grey -- Jirrawun's colours -- through the picture window as night approaches and the sheltering earth turns.” 

Nicolas Rothwell

*Nicolas Rothwell writing for 'The Weekend Australian' July 21 2007