Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford (c.1922 – 2007), a Gija Lawman, is one of the most important Indigenous Australian artists. His works are held in national and international collections, including those of the most major institutions in Australia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A riveting retrospective at the MCA in Sydney (2006), in which all three paintings were exhibited, headed an imposing list of worldwide exhibitions.

Bedfords first paintings were made on discarded scraps of plywood and other materials intended for disposal at the local dump. Tony Oliver, later artistic director of the Gija arts venture Jirrawun Arts, came upon these pictures by chance at Warmun (Turkey Creek) in 1998. He instantly recognised Bedfords potential as an artist and encouraged him to produce work on paper and on canvas. With several solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, his work became quickly critically acclaimed as outstanding.

These three early works on found materials, in this instance formica on composition board (caneite) from cupboard doors and cardboard, belong to the four very first paintings that Paddy Bedford ever produced. They were acquired by Colin and Elizabeth Laverty in September 1998 at Crocodile Hole. In these three captivating works of art, Bedfords exceptional talent is revealed and his later oeuvre is announced. Powerful, bold and unconditional imagery reflects the rocky outcrops and other amorphous features of the East Kimberley landscape. Landscape and resonance of the Ngarranggarni, also known as the Dreaming, in which land, animals and plants came into being and in which the law was laid down, merge in these pictures.

These authoritative pictures emerge from an alluring tension between a visual vocabulary that echoes strong knowledge about Gija Country and a natural ability to invent and improvise with form, composition and colour. Strikingly, they immediately appeal through their distinct hand, sensitive yet straightforward and self-assured. From these, one of the most significant bodies of works by an Indigenous Australian artist would erupt. A natural fluency in line would later be fully developed in his gouaches, while shapes become part of a play between convex and concave planes, introducing variations on the motif in subsequent canvases and boards.

Interestingly, these untitled pictures are not unlike the early paintings on board produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the East Kimberley for the new Gurirr Gurirr dance ceremony composed by Rover Thomas (c.1926 – 1998). In the performance of this ceremony, large boards – mainly painted by Paddy Jaminji (1912 – 1996) and illustrating the narrative – were carried across the shoulders. The pictorial language on these boards would prove of decisive importance for the new painting movement in the Kimberley.

It can be said with confidence that these early paintings by Paddy Bedford introduce the second wave of East Kimberley painting which found momentum in the establishment of Jirrawun Arts. Above all, these pictures are powerful visual poems about Country, narrated by a poet of the Law with an intrinsic knowledge of the land, acquired during a lifetime of intimate learning and a working life travelling the land as a stockman. Hence history, knowledge associated with the Ngarranggarni, and lived experience may all be simultaneously discerned.