An important focus of the Gallery’s Permanent Collection is the representation of landscape by artists from the region or those visiting the region of far north Queensland. Through these artists’ eyes we can develop new connections with and interpretations of the landscape that surrounds us and explore issues of place, identity and belonging.
Danie Mellor is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists. Born in Mackay, Queensland, his artistic practice is heavily informed by his Western and Indigenous cultural heritage. His works in the Collection are an engagement with and interrogation of the history, culture and landscape of his matrilineal Country of the Atherton Tablelands north of Cairns. Heavily laden with colourful fauna and Aboriginal people holding cultural artefacts, his intricately drawn idealised landscapes reference decorative blue and white English Spode chinaware, aesthetic devices to further interrogate the tension between Indigenous and non-Indigenous readings of Australia’s pre- and post-settlement history. His more recent photographic works demonstrate his continually expanding view and perception of Country and the ancient beauty of the Australian rainforest.
Rosella Namok started painting on canvas in 1984 in her community of Lockhart River, a former mission settlement 800 kilometres north of Cairns. Her style of painting was derived from sand drawings, a practice taught to her by her grandmother, who would sit on the beach and tell stories to the young women while running her fingers through the sand, making marks before wiping them away to start anew. This traditional approach to sharing cultural knowledge with a deep understanding of the environment informs her paintings of stormy seas and monsoonal rains.
Anneke Silver, a Dutch trained artist, settled in North Queensland in 1961. Her monumental painting in the Collection of Mount Bartle Frere, south of Cairns, captures a panoramic and majestic view of the mountain. For Silver, the individual panels that make up the image allow a focused meditation on the complex life forms of the tropical mountain environment and, when assembled together, allow a broader meditation on the mountain as an enigmatic and powerful life force.
Ray Crooke moved to Queensland to live with his wife in 1950. His encounters with the landscapes of the far north were an important focus of his art. His extensive travels around the Cape and the Torres Strait Islands attest to his deep fascination with the ‘new’ world of ancient land formations and respect for places of deep spiritual significance for the country’s First People. Crooke’s search for the archetypal Australian landscape resulted in an exceptional body of paintings and prints in the Gallery’s collection that are notable for their carefully considered and observed studies of the unique light, flora and space of the north.
Fred Williams is one of Australia’s most influential twentieth-century artists. In 1977 Williams made his first light plane flight, travelling to the mining township of Weipa in Cape York. For the first time in his life he saw the vastness of the Australian landscape laid out below him, experiencing a real rather than imaginary perspective of aerial height. The experience had a profound effect on him and resulted in the creation of what many consider to be his finest works – the Weipa series. The gouache landscapes that Williams completed from sketches made while travelling to Weipa are notable for their luminous colours. Most importantly, it is the removal of the horizon line that gives these works in particular an initial appearance of abstraction and an unsettling sense of endless space. However, his observations of the landscape and particular land formations are incorporated into his paintings with the careful precision of a map marker. Through the generosity of Lyn Williams and the Gallery Foundation, the Gallery has one of the most significant holdings of works from Fred Williams’ Weipa series of gouaches.
Two artists whose works have recently been acquired for the Gallery Collection are Noel Wood (1912-2001), and Valerie Albiston (1911-2008). Noel Wood, an Adelaide-born and trained artist, came to Dunk Island in 1936, before settling on Bedarra Island where he lived a life of artistic isolation before the arrival of the Cohen sisters, Yvonne and Valerie Cohen (later Albiston) in 1938. They settled on nearby Timana Island and maintained a close friendship with Wood.
For the next forty years the sisters divided their time between Melbourne and the tropics, developing their reputation as early pioneers of the Modernist Australian painting movement, inspired by the northern landscape. The works of both Wood and Albiston from this period share a view of the tropics as an idealised paradise, a place of wonderment, colour and freedom – a place that afforded unlimited freedom for experimentation with bold colours and abstracted forms.
The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji and Yirrganydji as the Traditional Owners of the area today known as Cairns. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.