Wangkul Junction - Wulangkuya
National recognition of this leading Kimberley artist came in 1990, when his works and those of Trevor Nickolls were chosen to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale exhibition. From the time that his paintings first emerged the mid-1980s, their raw ochre surfaces and minimal linear composition attracted widespread interest and a unanimous critical response. His experiences in creating the 1975 Gurirr Gurirr ceremony, which combined songs, dances and small dancing boards painted by his uncle Paddy Tjamitji, formed a significant stage in his early development as an artist.While his paintings produced in the next decade show an undeniable influence from Tjamitji, Rover Thomas's work, in both scale and treatment, is instantly recognisable. Whether the composition is of a secular landscape feature such as in the painting Wangkul Junction - Wulangkuya, which depicts an aerial view of the Turkey Creek township, or of a particular sacred site in the surrounding countryside, Thomas injects into his canvases a powerful energy that prompts instant comparison with the resonating 'emptiness' of the work of American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. Thomas's profound encounter wtith the Kimberley landscape as a stockman remains, part of the fascinating tale of the unconventional pathways followed by Aboriginal artists in their search to maintain and communicate a contemporary spiritual reading of their country's landscape.
Curatorial insightRover Thomas (Joolama) spent most of his life working as a stockman in the eastern Kimberley in the north of Western Australia. He began painting on a regular basis in 1981, and within a decade his vigorous and prolific creativity led to his selection as one of the first two Indigenous artists to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale, in 1990. In the mid-1980s the Aboriginal community of Warmun, adjacent to Turkey Creek, was the first in the East Kimberley to be recognised as a distinctive artistic region, widening non-Indigenous perspectives of Indigenous art, which had been preoccupied with the Arnhem Land and the Western Desert art traditions. (Croft, Indigenous Art: Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2001)