Gum Hole, 1990

14 Paddy Bedford (c1922 – 2007)
Gum Hole, 1990
natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on composition board
80.0 x 100.0 cm
signed verso: PB inscribed verso: title, Jirrawun Arts cat. PBCB2200543
Sold for $132,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 15 - 21 July 2010, Melbourne

Provenance

Jirrawun Aboriginal Arts, Kununurra
William Mora Galleries, Melbourne (stamped verso)
The Collection of William and Lucy Mora, Melbourne

Exhibited

Paddy Bedford, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 6 December 2006 - 15 April 2007

Sir William Dean in his eulogy for Paddy Bedford in September 2007, recalled that Bedford was a man of “great dignity and spiritual strength... a much loved senior elder and lawman who late in the story of his life discovered a rare artistic genius that resulted in him being recognised as one of the great painters of our continent.”1

Nyunkuny, commonly known by his nickname ‘Kuwumji’ and also by his gardiya name Paddy Bedford, was a Gija lawman of Jawalyi skin. Born at Bedford Downs Station in the East Kimberley in 1922, Bedford recalls stories of his family hiding from the massacres which were still occurring in the pastoral leases of the Kimberleys. In 1920, just two years before Bedford’s birth, several Gija men were poisoned, beaten to death and incinerated on a pyre for killing a dairy cow that had been grazing on lands once physically and spiritually their own. Paddy Bedford was named by and after the infamous Paddy Quilty, who organised the massacre, and ‘Bedford’ came from Bedford Downs, the station on which it happened and where as a young man, he worked as a stockman. When Aboriginal pastoral workers were finally awarded equal wages in 1969, Indigenous stockmen were unceremoniously expelled from cattle stations across the region. Bedford, a skilled stockman, was forced to work on construction crews along the Gibb River Road, moving rocks and other manual labour.2 During this time he lived between Nine Mile camp at Wyndham and Turkey Creek Mission settlement which was to become the home of the first great generation of East Kimberley artists in the early 1980s. According to Tony Oliver, who was to prove instrumental in Bedford’s career and the development of Jirrawun Aboriginal Art Corporation, Bedford was close friends with Paddy Jaminji, Hector Jandany and Rover Thomas whose canvases he helped to prepare and whose progress he quietly observed. But it was only after these pioneers of the Kimberley movement died that Bedford took on the responsibility of painting ceremonial boards.

In 1997 Bedford started painting his stories on board and canvas with a remarkable authority and confidence, but one that reflected his importance as a traditional elder of high regard. The rest is legend. Within several years Bedford acquired a reputation for not only inheriting the legacy of Rover Thomas but of pushing new boundaries with his famously fluent ‘walking line’. Steeped in traditional law and the Ngarranggarrni (Gija Dreaming) he drew on a seemingly endless source of traditional lore and knowledge of significant sites. His paintings combine important family dreamings such as Garnanganyjen (Emu), Birnkirrbal (Bush Turkey) and Ngayilanji (White Cockatoo) with the physical world of roads, rivers, traditional life, stock camp life, stock yards and country visited while mustering.

Catalogued as painting PB CB 2005.43 in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s catalogue raisonne of the artist’s work, this painting on custom board was executed in 2005, and represents the country of Gum Hole, Joowinma/Mardarrnginy, to the north of Bedford Downs in his father’s country. Gum Hole is a large permanent waterhole and is a dreaming place for garrjany or waterlilies. Stylistically, Gum Hole is characteristic of Bedford’s later painting where he has moved away from the more familiar style of the earlier east Kimberley painters to create his own representations of country. His use of colour has evolved to incorporate softer, more delicate hues of reds, blues and pinks. As Patrick Hutchings elaborates; “The painting Gum Hole is as sparse and eloquent as a Miro, it is heightened rather than softened by the delicate pinks painted wet into wet, which recall the rose brulee of Kimberley rocks.”3

In 2006, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Australian, and indeed world, culture Bedford was honoured with a major retrospective of his work at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. He was also one of a small group of Aboriginal artists commissioned to contribute to the permanent collection of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. Since his death in 2007 at the age of 85 Bedford’s paintings have been keenly sought, as the significance and quality of his astonishing body of work becomes increasingly evident.

1. Dean, Sir William, ‘Eulogy for Old Man,’ in Paddy Bedford; Bury My Heart at Bow River, exhibition catalogue, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne, 2009, p. 14
2. The Australian, 20 July 2007
3. Hutchings, P., ‘Of Land Spirit and Freedom’, The Age, Melbourne, 11 June 2005

Literature

Storer, R., Paddy Bedford, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2006 pp. 22 and 162 (illus.), p. 62 (illus., detail)