Categories: Workshop
      Date: Aug 10, 2011
     Title: Painting workshop at Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre, Cardwell

NEWflames artist Ian Waldron recently conducted a painting workshop with artists from the Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre. While the art centre was spared any major damage during cyclone Yasi in February this year, the surrounding rainforest, woodland and coastal habitats which are the source of lawyer cane and timber used in making baskets and other traditional objects, was badly damaged and will take time to regrow.



The week-long project was both varied and productive, and time spent outside the studio on country facilitated a sharing and exchange that allowed Ian to help further the artists' desires to share traditional knowledge through the media of painting.

Artists are thus enthusiastic to engage in other media, and welcomed the opportunity to work with Ian to find out what he could contribute to their existing painting skill-base. The centre has been in full-time operation since 2008 and represents nine traditional owner groups (Nywaigi, Gugu Badhun, Warrgamay, Warungnu, Bandjin, Girramay, Gulgnay, Jirrbal and Djiru), and around 25 artists. Many of the artists have been involved in projects and attended workshops run by the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation before the official establishment of the art centre. Knowledge of local Indigenous traditional material culture has been maintained through the generations, and the sharing of skills is an important part of community cohesion. Artists continue to make various styles of baskets (jawun, burrajingal, gundala and mindi), eel traps (wungarr), shields (bigin), swords (bagur) and fire making tools (bagu and jiman) using techniques taught by family members and with reference to historical artefacts and photographic records.

Objects from the rainforest area of Queensland are well-known for their distinctive features. The aesthetically pleasing form of the bicornual basket (jawun) has long been sought after by public and private collectors alike, and the distinctive patterns found on rainforest shields and swords are no longer just museum artefacts but exhibited and awarded prizes in contemporary art settings. The art-specific media of ceramics is relatively new to the Girringun artists and their Bagu and Jiman (spirit and fire-stick) sculptures, exhibited for the first time at the 2009 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), have become famous for their fresh and highly innovative take on a traditional form.

Not content to confine their practice to three-dimensional work, these artists also work with print-making, batik and painting. A number of artists have developed distinctive painting styles that have stimulated the interest of public institutions and commercial galleries. John Murray has had a solo exhibition at KickArts in Cairns, and Leonard Andy and Alison Murray have works in the Parliament House Collection. The Girringun artists have been participating in painting workshops since 2008, and in 2009, Girramay countryman and NEWflame Tony Albert worked with the artists on preparing paintings for the inaugural CIAF and an exhibition at Gallerysmith in Melbourne. In line with the art centres' aim to utilise local expertise in their projects as often as possible, local painter and NEWflame Ian Waldron was invited to spend a week in Cardwell with the artists working on painting techniques.

The group took Ian on a trip to Murray Falls, passing through their community of Jumbun on the way, to tell him about the Gijalordi (kingfisher) story which relates to the creation of Tully River and connecting creeks. By the end of the week a significant and impressive body of small paintings had been produced which were hung as an exhibition on the final day. Many of the works were landscapes as the artists were working on the kingfisher story, with abstracts and depictions of the elegant jawun also being represented. There was a ready audience on hand to enjoy the exhibition which included a local collector, Girringun Executive Officer Phil Rist and Girringun Rangers. A number of the paintings have subsequently been purchased including a set of around twelve works by another arm of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation.

Much was achieved in that week and the use of time and resources was maximised because the artists were working together as a group in a familiar environment. Being able to show Ian their community and surrounding country allowed the artists to relay what is really important to them as traditional owners. Having an artist visit the community also meant that a large number of artists benefitted, some of whom would not otherwise have been able to attend workshops away from home due to health, family and work commitments. This was important for the Girringun artists who identify and support each other very much as a group.

The Girringun artists have exhibited commercially with the Suzanne O'Connell Gallery in Brisbane, Gallerysmith in Melbourne and the Australian Art Network in Cairns. Work is also sold to collectors through the art centre in Cardwell. The Girringun artists are currently preparing for their third year at CIAF which is held from the 19 to 21 August on the waterfront in the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal in the historic Wharf Shed #3.