NT Writers Festival

Wayne Eager’s painting Desert Summer to be the visual flag bearer for the 2023 NT Writers Festival

Wayne Eager’s painting Desert Summer to be the visual flag bearer for the 2023 NT Writers Festival

We’re not surprised to see Wayne ‘Iggy” Eager’s painting Desert Summer, 1994 (gouache on paper) as the visual flag bearer of 2023 NT Writers Festival. He told the NTWC:

"First of all, I’m very proud to be represented and grateful to the NT Writers Festival for choosing my painting as the artwork for this year's event.

I painted ‘Desert Summer’ in 1994 at Haasts Bluff where l lived with my partner, Marina Strocchi, who managed the Ikuntji Art Centre.

The regular trips to town and around country on the dusty roads, provided a constant stream of imagery. I drew from this, back in the studio, in a similar approach used by a poet or writer; translating experiences, memories and feelings of, and in, the landscape."

Wayne Eager, March 2023.

‘Desert Summer’ was one of the works selected for Eager’s 2020 survey show - this exhibition has been captured in his book Wayne Eager: A Survey.

Wayne Eager: A Survey documents Eager’s survey exhibition, Bitumen and Dirt takes in over 30 years of work while living in the Northern Territory. The exhibition was shown Charles Darwin University Gallery then the Araluen Art Centre.

In the book we are presented with 100+ images together with the four accompanying essays in the book give important insights into Eager’s work. The essays are penned by John Kean, well known in Central Australia from his days at Papunya Tula; curator and writer Kirsty Grant; and a great overview from leading art historian, Professor Alexander (Sasha) Grishin. This is wrapped up by the exhibition’s curator, Kellie Joswig.

Also included is Eager’s impressive curriculum vitae listing 25 solo shows and even more group exhibitions. His works have been acquired by National Gallery of Australia, MCA (Sydney), Myer Roar Collection and more. Eager’s two page personal biography timeline maps many fascinating and memorable art and personal life moments, from being born in Box Hill in Victoria in 1957 though to 2020, the year of the exhibition.

In 2021 Eager moved back to Victoria, after 30 years of living in Central Australia. He is currently exhibiting at Australian Galleries.

The following is a transcript of the book launch speech by Chips Mackinolty.

Welcome to Wayne’s World: where “place” is everything

Launch of Wayne Eager, a survey 1982-2020 Araluen Arts Centre, 12 December 2020

For a few years, just over a decade ago, I worked for the then-arts minister, Marion Scrymgour, and we were regular visitors to Mparntwe/Alice Springs. I was an odd-jobber: advisor on various portfolios including the Arts; speech writer and general grumpy old bastard.

One thing that became very obvious to both of us, despite various personal loyalties to the Top End, was that Alice Springs was—in so many ways—the cultural capital of the Northern Territory. This was not just in terms of the Aboriginal art of the region, which defies colonial borders and stretches into APY and Ngaanyatjarra lands, and north to the Barkly. But it was also—and remains to this day—a focus of work of non-Aboriginal artists, crafters, dancers, actors, musicians, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers and beyond.

Indeed, I think it is eminently arguable that there are more writers per capita here than anywhere else in Australia.

Central Australia was, and remains, a cultural capital.

So in this special preview of Iggy’s forthcoming Araluen Bitumen and Dirt exhibition next March, the launch of his book holds a special place.

And I say the word “place” quite deliberately.

All of the works that form his survey exhibition, and contained in this book, are about “place”—some actual, some from an imagined landscape.

When we think of “landscape” in central Australia, we are often drawn to works by, for example, Albert Namatjira and Wenten Rubuntja. Or indeed the western desert artists that Iggy has worked with across nearly three decades. Or, again, the many landscape artists who featured in the Central Australian Art Society’s annual exhibition a couple of months ago.

Putting it simply, the notion of “landscape” here in the Centre is a deeply entrenched and major force.

I am deeply attracted, for example, to some of Iggy’s earliest work here in the Territory—those of the Kapalga series, which I’d never seen before. Again it may be part of my northern predilections but, as abstract works, I immediately “knew” the places he was painting about. Again, when I say “painting about”, Iggy’s paintings and drawings are stories—stories about place.

I’ll leave the more theoretical art writing to the excellent essayists in the book—Sasha Griffin, John Kean, Kirsty Grant and Kellie Joswig, the show’s curator. I’m no good at that sort of language.

But I want to say something about Iggy’s work in the context of Aboriginal art, and the senior Aboriginal artists he has worked with so closely since arriving at Ikuntji with Marina Strocchi in 1992.

There is a hidden sub-text—rarely mentioned—of the real and potential tensions of whitefella artists working closely with Aboriginal artists. The issue of appropriation and influence has been a subterranean “no go” area of discussion for many decades. Some artists have quite deliberately appropriated western desert styles as some sort of self-promoting post-modernist “thing” ill-disguised, in my view, as some sort of gesture of pseudo “solidarity” with ancient cultures.

And this is not, unfortunately, limited to non-Aboriginal artists, as pointed out so forcefully on ABC TV last week by Blak Douglas and Claire G. Coleman in their discussion of the appropriation of central and north Australian Aboriginal art by Aboriginal artists elsewhere in Australia. We’ve all seen the didjeridus for sale here in Alice by NSW Aboriginal artists, painted depicting central Australian “dot-dot” motifs to be sold in a region that never had didjeridus as part of its cultural traditions. Or—I kid you not—of paintings of koalas with western Arnhem Land cross-hatching. Koala kitsch indeed.

That there are tensions cannot be doubted. Many non-Aboriginal Territory artists have worked for Aboriginal community controlled and owned art centres—and this applies to the Top End, as well. Employed surrounded by the lives and works of Aboriginal artists.

And this has been no less the case with Iggy and his long relationships with art centres and artists across the tri-state region. But it is a tension and influence that has not affected the work you can see in this book and in his forthcoming exhibition here at Araluen next year. As some of the writers in the book point out, his influences are western and modernist. His landscapes are about place, as I have noted, but deliberately not places of the tjukurrpa, but of the places he has experienced over decades, and those that have been his primary influences over many years.

And through all this he has always remained the Iggy we know: devoted partner to Marina; loving father of Lumyai; and dedicated painter and musician.

It’s been a great pleasure to launch this book, this special preview of his show next year. If you want a copy now, I am sure he will sign as many copies you like for you—and I know he has also signed copies available at Red Kangaroo Books in the Mall.

Chips Mackinolty

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