Rover Thomas - Bedford Station

Rover Thomas/ Rover Thomas Joolama

Australia 1926 - 1998

Painting

Rover Thomas
Rover Thomas Joolama
Male
Australia
1926

Being the central figure in the history of Aboriginal art, Rover Thomas was a cultural leader and establisher of the East Kimberley painting. His style includes the elements of his desert upbringing, as bird’s-eye perspective, map-like layouts and symbolic representations, painted in ochre tones derived from rock painting and body designs. Living on the Canning Stock Route, he spent first 40 years of his life working as a stockman. His artistic career began by accident, in his fifties. After the Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin, Thomas had a powerful dream of providence that inspired him to create song and dance cycle, so-called Krill Krill ceremony that also includes the painting of boards with images of spirit beings and important sites.

Rover Thomas - Durba Gorge gallery creek national australian artist country turkey gallery Kimberley turkey country aboriginal kimberley australia paintings time gallery creek australian artist national
Rover Thomas – Durba Gorge

Experiencing the Providence

Initially, Thomas was a desert man, strongly connected with his heritage and lifetime involved with the occasions at the Canning Stock Route. After his parents died, he was adopted by a drover and became a stockman himself. His family moved in different directions and some of them also became the artists. His remarkable life story reveals the great impact that the stock route had on the migration of Aboriginal families and, which is more interesting, the artistic movements that have emerged along that way.

In 1974, a major Cyclone Tracy caused the devastation and chaos in the Northern Territory. The Aboriginal people from Kimberly saw this disaster as a warning from the ancestral Rainbow Serpent, protector of the land, its people and source of all life, because of a rapid change and modernization of Indigenous tribes. Thomas experienced the providence, a dream that involved the spirit of his dead aunt who inspired him to create Krill Krill ceremony, a public performance which included songs and dances cycles associated with the painted boards.

Thomas created ceremony which included songs and dances cycles associated with the painted boards

Rover Thomas - Lake Tobin gallery creek national australian artist country turkey gallery Kimberley turkey country aboriginal kimberley australia gallery creek australian artist national paintings time
Rover Thomas – Lake Tobin

From Stockman to Painter

At first, Thomas oversaw the production of the boards and around 1980 began to paint himself. This boards gave him the opportunity to represent the new images of the land, pushing the imagery into new subjects of the ceremony. Now, they refer to the style known as the East Kimberley. The original ones are made exclusively for the corroboree, the ritual dances, painted in earth pigments. They are characterized by an aerial perspective, in accordance with Central and Western desert art and by figurative and topographical elements. Since 1983, Thomas started to work for gallerist and art dealer Mary Macha who provided him with plywood boards.

The painted boards are characterized by an aerial perspective and earth pigment

Rover Thomas - Cross Roads, Argyle Hill aboriginal kimberley australia gallery Kimberley turkey country paintings time gallery creek australian artist national
Rover Thomas – Cross Roads, Argyle Hill

Iconic Figure in the History of Aboriginal Art

Using the radical simplification of imagery, Thomas’ shapes are bordered by lines and dots and the painted surface resembles the body painting and rock art. However, more intuitive imagery and free expression distinguish his work over the most desert paintings that are composed of conventional symbols. Revealing his belief that both black and white people can live together, his paintings are abstract, but conceptual at the same time. Rover Thomas died on April 11, 1998, and was posthumously awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Western Australia. He was one of two Aboriginal Australians whose work has been exhibited in the Venice Biennale in 1990. His oeuvre contains the paintings that provide the unique insight into the landscape of Kimberly region and human relations that marked the local occasions.

Featured image: Rover Thomas – Bedford Station
All images copyright japingka.com.au

YearExhibition titleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2013Landmarks and Law Grounds Japingka Gallery, FremantleGroup
2000From Appropriation to Appreciation: Indigenous influences and images in Australian Visual Art Flinders University Art Museum AdelaideGroup
2000Images of the Land Art Gallery of NSW SydneyGroup
1999Myer Gatner Collection USAGroup
1997Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Paintings Songlines Aboriginal Art Gallery, Amsterdam, San FranciscoGroup
1997Imaging the Land National Gallery of Victoria, MelbourneGroup
1996Figures in the Land National gallery of Victoria, MelbourneGroup
1996Abstraction: Signs, Marks, Symbols National Gallery of Victoria MelbourneGroup
1996This is my country, this is me Seattle art museum , SeattleGroup
1996Contemporary Australian Abstraction Niagara Galleries MelbourneGroup
1996Flagging the Republic Sherman galleries, New England regional Gallery, TouringGroup
1996Nangara: The Australian Aboriginal Art exhibition-Ebes Collection Sichting Sint-Jan, Brugges, BelgiumGroup
1996Abstraction: Signs, Marks, Symbols National Gallery of Victoria MelbourneGroup
1996This is my country, this is meSeattle art museum, Seattle Group
1996Contemporary Australian Abstraction Niagara Galleries MelbourneGroup
1996Flagging the Republic Sherman galleries, New England regional Gallery, Touring.Group
1996Nangara: The Australian Aboriginal Art exhibition-Ebes Collection Sichting Sint-Jan, Brugges, BelgiumGroup
1995Stories, Eine Reise zu den grossen Dingen touring, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Museum fur Volkerkunde Leipzig, Haus der Kulteren der Welt Berlin, Ludwig-Forum fur Internationale Kunst Aachen.Group
1995The Twelfth National Aboriginal Art Award Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin Solo
1995Rover Thomas -Well 33 Revisited William Mora Galleries, MelbourneGroup
1995Painting up the Country: Aboriginal art from the Kimberley WACooee Aboriginal art, SydneyGroup
1995The Festival of Darwin Art exhibition: Kimberley PrintmakersDarwinGroup
1995Offset and Intaglio Fremantle Arts Centre, FremantleGroup
1995Made in the Kimberleys Moores Building FremantleGroup
1995Northwest and Kimberley Artists Durack Gallery, Kimberley Fine Art, BroomeGroup
1995Latest Landscapes Utopia Art, SydneyGroup
199512th NATSI Art Award Museum & Art Gallery of NT, DarwinGroup
1994Roads Cross, The Paintings of Rover Thomas National Gallery of Australia, CanberraSolo
1994Rover Thomas Utopia Art Sydney, StanmoreSolo
1994Power of the Land, Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art National Gallery of VictoriaGroup
1994Identities: Art from Australia Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan, Wollongong City GalleryGroup
1994Australian Heritage Commission National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition Old Parliament House, CanberraGroup
1994This Land: A Celebration Utopia Art Sydney, StanmoreGroup
1994Yiribana Art Gallery of New South Wales, SydneyGroup
1994Rover Thomas: An Artist from Turkey Creek, Hogarth Galleries SydneySolo
1994This land: A Celebration Utopia Art SydneyGroup
1994Power of the Land: Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art National Gallery of Victoria, MelbourneGroup
1994Roads Cross -The Paintings of Rover Thomas National Gallery of AustraliaSolo
1994Rover Thomas New Paintings Utopia Art, SydneySolo
1993Trevor Nickolls and Paintings by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Ginger Riley Manduwalawala and Rover Thomas Hogarth Galleries, SydneyGroup
1993The Tenth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, DarwinGroup
1993Images of Power, Aboriginal Art of the Kimberley National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Group
1993ARATJARA, Art of the First AustraliansKunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; LouisianaMuseum, HumlebaekGroup
1992Crossroads-Towards a New Reality, Aboriginal Art from Australia National Museums of Modern Art, Kyoto and TokyoGroup
1991Aboriginal Art and Spirituality High Court, CanberraGroup
1991Flash Pictures National Gallery of AustraliaGroup
1991Walkabout in the Dreamtime Virginia Miller Gallery, Miami, FloridaGroup
1990Contemporary Aboriginal Art 1990: From Australia Third Eye Centre, Glasgow and touring UKGroup
1990Anatjari Tjampitjinpa, Dini Campbell Tjampitjinpa and Rover Thomas John Weber Gallery, New YorkGroup
1990The Seventh National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, DarwinGroup
1990Venice Biennale: Australian Representative, with Trevor NickollsVeniceGroup
1990Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art Art Gallery of South AustraliaGroup
1990Balance 1990: views, visions, influences Queensland Art Gallery, BrisbaneGroup
1990Contemporary Aboriginal Art from the Robert Holmes a Court Collection Harvard University, University of Minnesota, Lake Oswego Center for the Arts, United States of AmericaGroup
1990L’ete Australian a Montpellier Musee Fabre, FranceGroup
1990Innovations in Aboriginal Art Hogarth Galleries, SydneyGroup
1990The Singing Earth Chapman Gallery, CanberraGroup
1990Abstraction Art Gallery of New South Wales, SydneyGroup
1989On the Edge, five contemporary Aboriginal artists AGWA, PerthGroup
1989Turkey Creek: Recent Work Deutscher Gertrude Street, MelbourneGroup
1989A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art Westpac Gallery, Melbourne; Design Warehouse SydneyGroup
1989Masterpiece Fine Art Gallery, HobartGroup
1989l’ete Australien a’ Montpellier Musee Fabre Gallery, Montpellier, FranceGroup
1988ANCAAA and Boomalli Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, SydneyGroup
1988Art from the Kimberley Aboriginal Artists Gallery, SydneyGroup
1988Innovative Aboriginal Art of Western Australia University of Western Australia, PerthGroup
1988Recent Aboriginal Painting Art Gallery of South Australia, AdelaideGroup
1988Creating Australia: 200 Years of Art 1788-1988 International Cultural Corporation of Australia, TouringGroup
1988Australian Art Post-1960 Deutscher Gallery, BrunswickGroup
1987Aboriginal Art from the Kimberley Goolarabooloo Gallery, BroomeGroup
1987Art of the East KimberleyBirrukmarri Gallery, PerthGroup
1987Recent Aboriginal Art from Western Australia National Gallery of Australia, CanberraGroup
1986The Third National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, DarwinGroup