The first time we had a TV on Gerard Mission we would watch the TV in the hall to see the movies until the TV would close, 2002
acrylic on linen
Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Private collection, Brisbane
Ian Abdulla spent 10 years on the Gerard Aboriginal Mission near Winkie, and his painted memories frequently draw from this time and place. "The first time we had a TV on Gerard Mission we would watch the TV in the hall to see the movies until the TV would close" (2002) captures the artist's earliest encounter with televisual technology. With Abdulla's signature naive style and wondrous attention to detail, he strips away extraneous visual information to include only those signs that give shape to his memory. Here the exterior wall of the hall has been rendered invisible, revealing the attentive viewers seated before the cumbersome monitor.
Often memories are like dreams, and this delightful painting has precisely this kind of wonderful strangeness. The two yellow humps in the centre of the image resemble mountainous terrain, but are actually the illuminations cast from the light fixtures within the hall. Outside, a third lamp casts a lopsided glow of yellow from behind the building, and the stars dot the sky at even intervals, like patterned wallpaper. Rendered in acrylic on linen, Abdulla uses a striking combination of yellow and black to depict the magical nighttime scene. By pairing the images with descriptive text, Abdulla invites his viewer further into the world of the image, wanting his story to be seen, heard and remembered for posterity.
"Well, all I want to be seen as is a quiet lad, interesting and someone who knows about history along the river, the way I grew up and about family and things like that" - Ian Abdulla
Ian Abdulla was an indigenous Australian painter, storyteller and history-maker. Combining text and images on canvas, his detailed brushstrokes painted a picture of his family's life along the Murray River.
When the artist died at age 63, he left an enormously significant cultural legacy of paintings, which are a record of his extraordinary talent as an artist, as well as his community's way of life. Abdulla grew up on the Murray and later spent 10 years on the Gerard Aboriginal Mission. As an adult he worked as a builder's labourer and with the Parks and Wildlife Service, before turning to art in 1988 when he attended a silk-screen printing course. In 1991 Abdulla was awarded South Australian Aboriginal Artist of the Year and over the years was shortlisted for 8 NATSIA Awards, winning for Best Painting in 1996. Astonishingly, in his relatively brief 23 year career he mounted 32 national and international solo shows, and is held in nearly every major public art collection around Australia. He is one of only four Australian artists to be included in the collection of the British Museum.