M. Durrng Garrawurra,1940-2006

The great painter from Howard Island has left us. I remember seeing his bold striped paintings for the first time about a decade ago in the Kimberley Gallery in Melbourne and being struck by their forceful simplicity. I didn’t know much about art at the Top End in those days, and I don’t think at the time I connected those paintings with the great memorial poles in the National Gallery. Later, as I came to learn the stories of Djang’kawu Sisters, I came back to his art with a renewed respect for the simplicity of the designs. We eventually purchased a classic bark painting, the flag-like waterhole design that marks the creation of his country. Then last August, admiring his work in a show at Hogarth, we heard that he was very ill. There was a set of five digging sticks that he’d brought into the art centre. They were a little battered, and looked as if they had actually been made for ceremony, and not for the gallery. There was a deep sadness connected to the thought that perhaps he had brought them in as he began to shed his attachments to this world. But the strength had not gone out of the work.

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