Major Kimberley Aboriginal Art Collection sold to Australian Public Institution

Greer Adams Fine Art and the family of the late West Australian artist Jarinyanu David Downs are delighted to announce that in a first for an Australian Public institution, the most historically significant single collection of paintings by an important Kimberley artist - 23 pieces in all - has been acquired by The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin.

Ground-breaking artist Jarinyanu David Downs (c.1920-1995) consistently visualised ancestral beings in human form, and this innovative, figurative style set him apart from other Western Desert artists.

Eleven of the 23 pieces are the first contemporary works to feature and honour ancestral figure Kurtal - The Rainmaker, and the connection between rain and the replenishment of life.

Kurtal can be found at the jila (permanent waterhole) of the same name in the eastern region of the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. It was here that Jarinyanu and his brothers learnt to perform ceremony to make rain before moving to the Northern Territory in the 1940s, and then relocating to Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia.

This collection, spanning the artist's commercial painting career from 1982-1995, captures a significant historical period when very few artists were producing works in the Kimberley. 

Significantly, he was one of the first of his desert peers to shift from artefacts to paintings.

This collection constitutes two parts.

Part one is a historic collection of the first known paintings on canvas by Downs, collected by Lord Alistair McAlpine of West Green and part two is a series of later works commissioned by visionary collector and dealer, Duncan Kentish.

Jarinyanu, creative, forceful and entrepreneurial, was an artistic mentor to a generation of Kimberley artists including his rainmaking brother the late Spider Snell, Pajaju Peter Skipper and Ngarralja Tommy May.

But it was Jarinyanu's collaboration with  Duncan Kentish, who came to Fitzroy Crossing in 1986 in search of Jarinyanu, that led to a major shift in scale, materials and quality of work.

Kentish oversaw Jarinyanu’s inclusion in more than nine international exhibitions and mounted a number of important solo shows, most notably at Bonython-Meadmore Gallery, Sydney (1988), Chapman Gallery, Canberra (1991); and Ray Hughes, Sydney (1995). 

In 2016, following Kentish’s passing, Greer Adams Fine Art and the Artist’s family held the first solo show of the artist in over 20 years, and Greer Adams is now advisor and agent for the Estate of the Artist.

Jarinyanu’s son Paddy Downs said: "These paintings ending up in NT for all the mob to see is important. It's what Wabura [Jarinyanu] always wanted. He wanted them to educate people. " 

"He would be happy. It’s what we want too, paintings for everyone to see. The old people will remember them, come visit them. This is our history. Very important paintings."

Luke Scholes, Curator, Aboriginal Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory said: ‘This startling collection of twenty-three paintings is of unique cultural, historical and artistic significance and will allow MAGNT to bring greater attention to our collection of items from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, which is an important geographic area of MAGNT’s collecting foci.”

Greer Adams added: "To view this collection, in its entirety, is to understand the complexity of the spiritual connections that link Jarinyanu to his own country including the various mythic beings that exist in the past, present and future but also the narratives of his Christian faith that he believed were firmly rooted in the same landscape.”

"These works provide a wonderful opportunity for the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory to unravel the story of one of the Kimberley’s foremost Indigenous artists and to place his oeuvre in a number of contexts from Ngarrangkarni (Dreaming) narratives… I can’t wait to see what the future holds!”

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