After three years ‘missing in action’, artist John “Gurri” Kelly hopes his new exhibition in Rozelle will help introduce art audiences to the unique Aboriginal cultures of New South Wales.
Kelly’s paintings tell the stories of the Dunghutti Nation of the NSW mid-north coast, whose people were amongst the first to have contact with European settlers.
The exhibition, “Diamonds of the Dunghutti”, marks Kelly’s return to the art world following the death of his father, whom he credits for his deep connection to Dunghutti tradition.
“My brothers and I became very tied up in the culture; the language the dance, the art. That’s inspired me to paint again,” Kelly said.
The exhibition is about new beginnings. These range from Kelly’s own return to painting, to the birth of the new decade – an idea Kelly sums up with the Dunghutti word barllu, which means ‘all will be well’.
“I’ve got a stronger will to succeed this time; a stronger message of harmony,” he said. “My father was a great believer in words. He would say: ‘Let’s not meddle, let’s mingle’.”
“I see my art as a link from the stories of yesterday – about sharing, caring and belonging. I hope my art can be part of that understanding.”
The self-taught artist began painting ten years ago, having watched his uncle and renowned Aboriginal artist Robert Campbell Junior at work as a child. Since then, Kelly became the first Aboriginal artist to hang permanently in NSW Parliament House, and has had his work featured prominently in the Deadly Awards, as well as the launch of National Indigenous Television (NTV). In 2004, Kelly was invited to contribute six paintings based on charcoal drawings by former South African President Nelson Mandela. Today, his works feature in collections across the country.
Kelly will also take the idea of ‘mingling’ one step further, and will be present at the Washhouse Gallery throughout much of the exhibition to paint, as well as talk with visitors about his art, his life, and his philosophy.
“It’s time to start having that self-conscious belief that all Australians are one and we need to start working together as one,” he said.
“Diamonds of the Dunghutti” opens at the Washhouse Gallery on Tuesday, February 2, and runs until Sunday, February 21.
by Rees Steel