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MEDIA RELEASE: Travelling Stories: A tribute to Michael Nelson Jagamara

Exhibition title/s: Travelling Stories: A tribute to Michael Nelson Jagamara
Exhibition duration: 17 June – 23 July 2022
Where: FireWorks Gallery, 9/31 Thompson St, Bowen Hills
Exhibition opening: Saturday 18 June 2-4pm
Media Contact: Michael Eather
Phone: 0418 192 845
Exhibition cost: Free


FireWorks Gallery is proud to announce ‘Travelling Stories: A tribute to Michael Nelson Jagamara’, showing over 35 works including experimental paintings, sculpture, works on paper, collaborations, and previously unexhibited works. Each of these works were made during a 23-year period of over 30 trips to Brisbane from his home in Papunya, Northern Territory from 1996 until shortly before his passing in 2020.

While Jagamara was recognised as one of Australia’s foremost artists in 1993 when awarded Member of the Order of Australia, this was only the first in a series of art accolades. The exhibition celebrates Jagamara’s curiosity to build on his career, working alongside Campfire Group artists in the Brisbane studios.

At a Sotheby’s London auction in 2016, Five Stories (Image 1) was made available for sale for the first time since its debut exhibition in 1984. The painting was purchased by a private collector in the USA for AUD$687,877 establishing what was then the highest price achieved for a living Indigenous artist. As one of the most reproduced Aboriginal artworks of the late 20th century, and Jagamara’s most iconic work, a limited-edition reproduction of Five Stories 1984 is proudly displayed on entry in the ground floor gallery.

Jagamara’s Big rain & lightning (Image 2) represents a breaking with traditional Aboriginal design, with these elements redistributed on canvas panels to create a dynamic tension through the white snaking storm path and the straight black lines as lightning strikes. The work forms a centrepiece of the downstairs gallery exhibition (Image 3), with these lightning stories continued in other formats.

The Lightning Strikes sculpture series (Image 4), which began in 2014, is one such example. Fabricated in polyurethane, bronze and stainless-steel editions, the image is based on the artist’s Rain & Water Dreaming narrative. Major installations of this work in Brisbane reside permanently at the Blackbird Bar & Grill, Lyrebird Restaurant, and at ‘The Gabba’ Cricket Ground.

Three big storm clouds and lightning strikes (Image 5) again reformats the sculptural language in linear arrangements, suggesting storm clouds and the lightning strikes as parallel lines. It features lurid coloured pinks and purples using hi-urethane paints, a recurring feature of his Brisbane style.

The upstairs gallery showcases collaborations with Jagamara’s family members, as well as with fellow artist Imants Tillers. These collaborative works ranged a large portion of his career, with 2002 work From Afar (Image 6) created with Tillers in Brisbane. It features Jagamara’s ‘Possum dreaming’ design tracking in from distant places to a central roundel or meeting place, symbolising Brisbane, a site between the two artists’ homes.

Jagamara’s and Tillers’ collaborative history totals over 24 paintings, each utilising Tillers’ characteristic canvas board system. Major works by the two acclaimed artists have been acquired by Australia’s Parliament House Art Collection, QAGOMA and Tate Modern, London.

The silver & gold leaf series (Image 7) begun in 2006, uses flowing repertoire of Jagamara’s visual stories, including Kangaroo and Old men sitting down. These symbols, merging with linear sand hills and roundels, have been guilded by artisans with 24 karat gold and silver leaf, creating a new medium in which to view his ancient stories.

Through his constant travelling between Brisbane and his desert home, Jagamara generously shared his library of stories and created new cultural connections, resulting in art works that have their own place in history. The Brisbane studio became an extended lounge room, combining his desert country and an urban Brisbane experience.

Jagamara will always be remembered as a bush gentleman (Image 8). With his jacket and Akubra hat, he displayed a
marvellous humour and forthright dignity, whilst all the time sharing a multitude of Indigenous stories. He would usually
introduce himself with a warm smile and a shake of the hand, announcing: ‘Hello, I’m a famous artist.’

Artwork prices range from: $950-$95,000