Important Aboriginal Works of Art
25 May 2016


(c.1935 – 2002)

synthetic polymer paint on linen

203.0 x 120.0 cm

bears inscription verso: artist’s name and Karen Brown Gallery cat. KB0905

$30,000 – 40,000

Karen Brown Gallery, Darwin
Gene and Brian Sherman collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Renowned for his unique interpretations of body decorations and markings used in the ceremonial activities of the Larrakia people, Prince of Wales (Midpul) drew inspiration from these traditional activities for the imagery in his contemporary paintings. Born Midpul at Kah'lin (Cullen) Beach, Darwin in 1935, Prince grew up at Belyuen (Dellisaville), a small community on the far side of Darwin Harbour. He was the son of acknowledged Larrakia leader and traditional land owner Imabul (Old King George) and was also known as Prince of Wales – a title that was re-enforced when he danced for Queen Elizabeth during a royal trip to Australia in the 1960s. A custodian and leader of Larrakia ceremonies and dances, a leading didgeridoo player and ceremonial body painter for much of his life, Prince started painting in 1995, initially on discarded pieces of wood and cardboard, and participated in his first exhibition the following year.

'In taking up painting in 1995, Prince found a medium through which he could retain the essence of his active ceremonial life. His paintings have a musicality imparted by the lively staccato-effect of the dots and intermittent bars, as if to read like sheet music for an improvised symphony. Prince's uninhibited use of colour belies the origins of these designs which were passed on by his ancestors as marks on the bodies of ceremonial participants.'1

Monumental in size and executed on a red ground, Body Marks, 2002 reinforces the ceremonial body decorations that Prince of Wales wanted to preserve in his painting. The alternate coloured dotting of the body marks is contained within a border of bright white, framing the pattern of deep red and black dots together to create an intense energy within the work. These markings evoke the patterns Prince would have originally painted onto the bodies of his clansmen prior to a ceremonial dance, but here they are transferred as a permanent record for posterity. The work was painted in the final year of his life and as Perkins notes ‘In his last years, Prince ‘upped the ante’, scaling up his Body Marks paintings to assert his cultural authority as a Larrakia elder’2 'These paintings ... I paint them on bodies ... young people and old ... ceremony for singing ... dance ... I make the marks'.3

His first solo show was in Melbourne in 1997 at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, and in 2001, he won the painting sections of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Prince delighted in the whole process of painting, creating modern minimalist art works characterized by simple geometric forms floating above a sparse ground with dotting emphasizing the forms.

1. Perkins, H., Tradition Today; Indigenous Art in Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004, p. 166
2. Ibid
3. The artist cited in notes on Prince of Wales and the Gwalwa Daraniki Land Movement, kindly provided by Grant Smith, Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi