Director's Blog with Beverly Knight

Colour, landscape + memory… Queensland retrospective pays tribute to Mrs Gabori

Renowned artist Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, “Mrs Gabori”, has a long connection to our Melbourne art gallery, so it’s a particular honour for us that her work is to go on show in Queensland next year.

Significant paintings from Mrs Gabori’s brief but intense artistic career will be showcased in a major retrospective at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art from 21 May to 28 August 2016. Featuring some of the artist’s most exceptional works, many of them lent by leading art institutions and private Australian collections, the exhibition will be a timely survey of this fascinating artist’s work. It will also be a poignant tribute, as Mrs Gabori died peacefully, surrounded by family and friends in February 2015. We at Alcaston Gallery are particularly proud to have worked closely with the Queensland Art Gallery and curator Bruce McLean to assist with this project.

Mrs Gabori was born around 1924 on the south side of Bentinck Island, of the South Wellesley Island Group in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, an area frequently referenced in her work. What’s fascinating about this is that she only took up painting in 2005 at 81, stopping in 2013 due to old age. Yet her paintings often feature minutely recorded details of the land of her birth; a homeland from which she was forcibly exiled in the 1940s, as a young woman, due to the ravages of drought.

Mrs Gabori works

Memory and documentation, personal, familial and for her community, are key elements of Mrs. Gabori’s work. What is striking about these paintings is the value they place on recollection, featuring intricate depictions of the places and land forms of her early youth, but from the perspective of her advanced years.

Her work is also distinguished by another exceptional feature; its contemporary resonance. Her paintings are often executed using a completely intuitive use of colour and form akin to the great artworks of the European modernist movement. Significantly though, these works seem to have emerged from Mrs Gabori’s creative wellspring without any frame of reference regarding the western aesthetic; until her twenties, in the 1940s, when she left Bentinck Island, Mrs. Gabori had never even seen a non-indigenous person, let alone had access to European modern art.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that Mrs Gabori’s works have achieved such renown, despite the brevity of her career. One embodiment of the esteem in which she is held can now be seen at Brisbane Airport’s recently upgraded International Arrival Terminal. Unveiled in August 2015, the airport upgrade features 700 metres of Mrs Gabori’s artworks digitally reproduced in large scale along the public concourse.

Mrs Gabori work

Her works have also been collected by leading galleries and collectors nationally and internationally. And of course they’ve been shown in numerous solo shows and joint exhibitions at Alcaston Gallery. Mrs Gabori is one of the most important and established contemporary artists that we represent and we’re very proud to have had a long association with her. Our Melbourne art gallery held its last, and well-received, retrospective during January and February 2015. Colour Country – A Survey 2005-2013, illustrated the evolution of Mrs Gabori’s paintings, from the geometric colour blocks to subtle variations of colour and texture, which continually evolved in her later works.

In terms of her upcoming Queensland retrospective, it’s worth noting that sadly, it’s a rarity for any artist, and in particular indigenous artists to have had retrospectives of their work in Australian public galleries. That makes this retrospective an immense honour for Mrs Gabori and her legacy. Needless to say it will also be significant event for the art world and a huge treat for anyone interested in the wonderful possibilities of painting.

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