Paddy Bedford

Paddy Bedford’s paintings are a combination of modern materials and traditional pictorial conventions, contemporary experience and ancient belief systems. Born around 1922 on Bedford Downs Station in the remote East Kimberley region of Western Australia, Bedford began painting on canvas and board in 1998 and continued until his passing in 2007. His artistic practice in that time was remarkably prolific and consistently innovative. A senior lawman of the Gija people, Bedford painted as part of ceremony all his life and brought this wealth of symbolic, historical and technical knowledge to bear on his art.

Bedford’s paintings relate the narratives of his mother’s and father’s country, combining the Dreaming stories of the cockatoo, bush turkey and emu with the topography of the land he regularly traversed as a stockman, including rivers, roads, rocks and waterholes. Bedford also created paintings based on accounts of the often brutal interaction between Aboriginal people and white settlers in the early years of the 20th century.

With their large fields of flat colour edged with white dots, Bedford’s works connect to what has been described as the ‘East Kimberley’ or ‘Turkey Creek’ painting movement. This style emerged in the late 1970s and was made famous by artists such as Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie and Paddy Jaminji. While his bold compositions of stark, rounded shapes have provided a consistent structure for his paintings, Bedford also experimented with colour, form and pictorial space, with rapid and regular shifts occurring in his work.

This exhibition presented Paddy Bedford’s powerful command of painting, and traced the development of his motifs and techniques over the past decade. It included a series of Bedford’s early, densely patterned panels of red, yellow and black ochres; a selection of his more recent black and white canvases, with their dramatic play between positive and negative space; and a range of his vivid gouache works, their fluid lines and bright colours revealing a spontaneous, playful dimension to the artist’s practice. Together they presented a unique vision, drawing upon the specifics of Bedford’s country and its history as well as connecting to the wider artistic and social concerns at play in contemporary Australia.

Publisher: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Curator: Russal Storrier

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