Ryan Presley


1 Jun –
25 Aug 2024

The word mongrel, as the Oxford Dictionary defines, is a dog of no definable type or breed, or is any animal resulting from the crossing of different breeds. Alternatively, it is a commonly used Australian colloquial term meaning a person of mixed descent used either as a derogatory word or as a term of endearment between friends. It’s a word Aboriginal people have been called many times, whether for good or bad. It’s use as the title of Dr Ryan Presley’s (Marri Ngarr) exhibition conjures up visions of hostility and confrontation or friendly and jovial interactions - an apt use of the word for an Australian context.

In Ryan’s large-scale paintings, identity, politics, power imbalance and history are constantly inter-woven. The detailed layering shows a repositioning of history from an Aboriginal perspective, but by centring Aboriginal people, whether woman, man or a native dingo, Ryan creates a storyboard full of energy, motion, connectivity and curiosity. He utilises subtle and overt references to the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras, or features religious, classical and antiquity imagery where they are individually and collectively interrogated to reposition and interlink the past to the present.

Ryan’s works are mesmerising, featuring his iconic overlapping, concentric half circles of alternating light and dark lines. Some works feature this design extensively from top to bottom, densely covering the background or lower half of the works as they draw the viewer’s eye from one edge to the other. In some paintings the blue lines evoke rolling ocean waves or freshwater rapids, while in other works the red lines represent the undulating sand dunes of the desert. Peppered throughout are obscured elements or messages that peep through, providing additional intersections into the works.

Ryan Presley’s works in this exhibition are visually stunning and offer a stimulating cacophony of colours, compelling imagery and compositions that challenge stereotypes and reposition Aboriginal narratives.

    – Tina Baum, Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, National Gallery of Australia




Selected works



Marri Ngarr
The sun never sets; so we daydream I  2023
oil and 23k gold leaf on polyester
187 x 152 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery
Photographer: Carl Warner

The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. 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.