Vincent Forrester - Big Country: Desert Colours (2007)
Exhibition Archive (Launch 3 November 2007)
Exhibiting at Gallery Gondwana, Sydney, NSW Australia
Opening: November 3, 2007
This group exhibition included works by Vincent Forrester, Dorothy Napangardi, Rusiate Lali, Julie Robinson, Kudditji Kngwarreye, Lisa Mills Pwerle, Kitty Kantilla, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson, Polly Ngala, Dr George Tjapaltjarri
This emerging artist shares his stories through the red earth of Central Australia.
Artist, Vincent Forrester is sitting on the ground at his home in Alice Springs, blending a mixture of ochre, saliva and binder to create a rich red paste.
He applies the paste to a large canvas, stretched out in front of him, working slowly across its surface, with both ends of a sable brush.
“This is my country,” he explains, pointing to the two large amorphous shapes, which dominate the centre of the canvas. “Uluru and Kata Tjuta, where my people originally came from.”
Like many other male ochre artists before him - the most well known being Rover Thomas, George Mung Mung, Jack Britten, and Hector Jandany – Forrester started out as a stockman, working on the gargantuan cattle stations of the Northern Territory.
Forrester was also a prominent Aboriginal activist, prominent in the civil rights movement of the 1970s and helping to establish the Tent Embassy at the front of Parliament House in 1972.
Where Forrester differs from the predominant ochre artists, is that he doesn’t come from the Kimberly (specifically Warmun) but rather, grew up as a ‘towny’ in Alice Springs.
He only began painting a year ago, following the appointment of a Government Administrator at Mutitjulu, the small but troubled township in the shadow of Uluru.
“I went down there to help devise a community strategy to fight against the appointment,” Forrester says. “I wasn’t getting paid for this work, so I started painting to earn some much needed money and as a form of therapy.”
Vincent Forrester at Big Country: Desert Colour group exhibition (November, 2007)
His subjects, not surprisingly, revolved around Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Lake Amadeus and Mount Conner; the land of his ancestors. (His mother was born at Angas Downs Station and his grandmother at Kata Tjuta). Forrester learned the basics of his craft – stretching and priming a canvas – from artist friends in Alice.
His choice of ochres is based on those used in traditional cave wall paintings. “They’ve lasted for thousands of years, so I figure the artists must be doing something right,” he says. “The ochres from the desert were traded right across Australia for thousands of years. Our people traded ochre and salt, while the coastal people would trade pearl shells with us.”
The black paint which Forrester uses, is derived from the burnt bark of the corkwood tree. Like the ochre, it is mixed with spit, water and binder to make a paste.
But while he has a corkwood tree handy in his backyard, the rest of the ochres must be sourced from much further afield.
“This ochre here, this red ochre, I’m entitled to use it, but I’m not allowed to go dig for it, because it belongs to a women’s site at Ulpanyalia, near Kings Canyon,” he explains. “The ochre belongs to a well know storyline of Tjukurpa (Creation Time). concerning the seven sisters of creation, that came down out of the sky.
“I take the ladies out to the site by 4WD and I sit down under a tree in the shade while they go and gather the ochre. I let them do all the hard work,” he laughs. “No really, sometimes I might go and pick them some pitchery for them, or I’ll cook them up a roo on the fire.”
On the other hand the white ochre is collected by Warlpiri women further north.
“I’m pretty sweet with all the different women, hey?” he grins.
And the mustardy yellow ochre is from the ‘Pitlands’ (Surveyor Generals Corner) – that remote region at the border junction of WA, SA and NT.
At the moment, Forrester is experimenting using both acrylics and ochres, side by side to create different textures and levels of luminosity.
“I’m creating bold, simplistic paintings, but I’m still learning how to do it,” he says modestly.
Author: Stephen Lacey, November 2007
Big Country exhibition opens at Gallery Gondwana, Danks Street Waterloo, on November 3, 2007.
For details, see: www.gallerygondwana.com.au
01 September - 31 December 2018
Vincent paints stories from the Dreaming… his art represents a story and a “spiritual legacy” for his descendants. Vincent often uses the traditional methods of preparing natural ground-up paint made at Uluru. The same traditional colours used for ceremonial body paint.
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