Rover Thomas Joolama

Metro Gallery is pleased to offer, for private sale, the historically significant Dreaming Place — WatiKutjarra by Rover Thomas Joolama.

Sourced directly from the artist by Neil McLeod ca. 1985, this is the first time in fifteen years that thepainting is being offered on the art market.

Metro Gallery is pleased to be entrusted with brokering the sale of this work.

Stemming from Wangkajunga and Kukatja communities, and of Joolama skin group, Rover Thomas was born ca. 1926 at Gnawaggi, near Canning Stock Route in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. Working initially as a stockman at cattle stations across the Kimberley and the Northern Territory, he moved in 1975 to the Warmun Community, at Turkey Creek in the East Kimberley.

Fully initiated into the traditional lore of his communities, Rover also became known as the spiritual elder of the Kurirr-Kurirr ceremony, a cycle of singing, dancing, and painting revealed to the artist in a dream sequence by his kin mother.

Rover began sharing his stories with the wider world from the early 1980s, when Mary Macha, the then Kimberley-based field officer for the Department of Employment, brought the awareness of the indigenous art from the Kimberley region to the wider community.

Rover’s paintings, distinguished by their deep, earthen colours, and the bold solidity of floating geometric masses, silhouetted against the background by the delicate contouring of white dots, rapidly gained collectors’ following and curatorial recognition.

From the late 1980s onwards, Rover’s works began to be included regularly in major curated indigenous and contemporary art exhibitions across Australian public galleries. In 1990, he was awarded the prestigious Patrick McCaughey Prize at the National Gallery of Victoria and became one of the two indigenous artists to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale. Today, his works reside in Australian national, state, regional, and tertiary collections, as well as in prestigious public, corporate and private collections across the globe.

The present painting comes from an important sequential cycle of Wati Kutjarra series, representing the Two Men Dreaming. It narrates a Dreamtime Story of two brothers, totemic goanna men, who undertook a singing journey of thousands of miles from the Kimberley to South Australia, becoming sacred to numerous communities across the Western Desert. When coming across unknown communities, they established their identities through singing. It is also through their songs that they named geographical features and taught the communities about plants and animals, many of which they willed into being through the power of their songs. The brothers are credited with creating natural phenomena, quelling evil spirits, and establishing sacred sites.

Each painting in the Wati Kutjarra series refers to a specific location on the brothers’ journey. The present work is connected with Lawman Place and Flat Top Mountains in the area known as Yaga Yaga, a sacred site which appears in paintings by other indigenous artists. A topographical map of the area is sketched on the reverse of the panel.

Works from Rover Thomas’s early period are eagerly sought after by the knowledgeable collectors for numerous reasons.

Firstly, the actual support of the painting, the board on which it is painted, would have been manufactured with the assistance of Rover’s uncle and fellow artist, Paddy Jaminji.

Secondly, the depth of colour is achieved by the use of pure local ochre pigments, demonstrating Rover’s intense awareness of—and intimate, spiritual connection with—the land. The characteristic matt sheen of the paintings was achieved by the artist, through trial and error, by experimenting with the sap sourced from local Kurrajong trees, which acts both as a binder and a varnish within his early works.

Last but not least, as numerous art historians have observed, the special quality of Rover’s early pieces resides in the fact that, as works of visual art, they are still living and evolving. Rover’s use of industrially manufactured paints in his later works may have resulted in deeper palettes. However, they cannot match the delicate gradations of natural pigments, the inviting tactility of surface structures, and subtle variations occurring organically within the natural ochres. These precious aspects of Rover’s early paintings can be experienced abundantly within the present, historically significant work.

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