Art distractions

by John posted November 6, 2014 category Art / Design, Culture, Family, History, Koorie, Painting, Politics, Work

John Patten Snr & grandson

It’s been a long time since my last update, but not for a lack of things to write about. The fact is that I just haven’t had the time to sit down and take stock of what I’ve been up to this year since my road trip with my son Tiriki in April.

When I last wrote I was not far off from having had my first art exhibition, a group show at the Light Factory gallery in Eltham (Melbourne). As I write I’m currently one week into my follow-up exhibition, “Men’s Business: From the Darling to the Bay”, which was so succinctly described by the curator, John Duggan:

“Men’s Business: From the Darling to the Bay has as its foundation, deep links to practices steeped in our cultural traditions. Visual storytelling can be seen across the Australian continent painted in rock-shelters, on bark and canvas; carved in trees, shell and in rock; created in sand.” He adds that, “the ongoing skilled manufacture of weapons and tools – knives, hatchets, skin bags, containers, shields, clubs, boomerangs, music sticks, as well as using traditional materials for their manufacture – wood, skin, ochres, sinew, resin, stone – all tell the unbroken story of our culture. By maintaining cultural traditions and keeping strong connections to our people and places, the cultural knowledge and practices of the past will thrive. We are now passing our story on to you.”

The exhibition is being hosted by the Koorie Heritage Trust, here in Melbourne and runs until 27 February 2015.

Additionally, I’ll be exhibiting at the same venue in another exhibition, the 2014 Koorie Art Show, which will run from 8 December through to 27 February 2015.

Whilst I’ve kicked off my foray into exhibiting my works, I’ve also been working lately as an advocate for the achievements of my Grandfather, Jack Patten. In September I was able to act on a submission I wrote to have Jack included in this years list of inductees to the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll. I attended a dinner at Federation Square in the company of my Mum, Dad and Cousin Harry Brandy, representing Jack in his posthumous award. Among the achievements that my grandfather was responsible for, a few among the many include:

  • Writing, printing, editing and publishing the first National Aboriginal newspaper, the “Australian Abo Call”, in 1938.
  • Co-founding and acting as President of the Aborigines Progressive Association. Founded in 1937.
  • Leading the revolt at Cummeragunja in 1939, which saw Jack arrested, having ensured that 200 residents of Cummeragunja, including his own father and brothers families would leave the station in protest at the draconian controls and horrible conditions in which they were forced to live.
  • Leading the first deputation of Aboriginal people to meet with a serving Prime Minister.
  • Organising and hosting the Day of Mourning conference in Sydney in 1938, in protest at the sesquicentennial celebrations of the founding of “White Australia”.
  • Leading the protest in 1939 to ensure Aboriginal Australians could serve their country in the armed forces as Aboriginal people, rather than being forced to pretend they were of other ethnic origins.
  • Serving his country during WWII as one of the famed Rats of Tobruk.
  • Having first raised the idea of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1947, inspiring his protege Chicka Dixon to carry the idea to fruition.

It was a great evening, and it came shortly after my writing was used as the basis for an entry on Jack’s work in a pair of text books published by Oxford University Press, for use in all Australian high schools. Both efforts to have my grandfather’s achievements recognised are matters I am more proud of than any recognition of my own achievements.

In early October an evening of cultural talks, musical performances and demonstrations I developed was put into play at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The concept was a Koorie themed addition to Melbourne Museum’s SmartBar series of programs. With a lot of help from my colleagues, the program included a demonstration of how a traditional water carrier was made, using stone tools to prepare a wallaby, removing its pelt, and a discussion of the diversity of Australia’s numerous languages. A highly successful evening, it may be a program that returns bigger and brighter the second time around.

I’ve started to paint again in earnest, probably for the first time since I was in high school, and for the first time I’m concentrating on portraits. Previously I’ve perhaps done two acrylic portraits, and perhaps a dozen in pencil. However now I’ve begun working in oils. Previously I had only ever done a single oil painting, as an exploration during a workshop in high school. I’m finding the medium to be a highly enjoyable one, far more so than any other paint form. I expect I’ll be refining my process considerably in coming efforts, but after starting on my second oil portrait (as featured in this post, a portrait of my father and my youngest son), I feel I am beginning to get the hang of its intricacies.

The primary reason for my lack of interest in writing on this blog this year has also been the matter which has taken the greatest toll on me. It was the loss of my cousin, Shayne. His loss was one I felt harder than any other I have experienced. Shayne along with his older brother Ken, were both like older brothers to me. I idolised both and their skills as artists. Shayne could draw and paint, and he could draw without effort in a style heavily influenced by the comic artists of our youth, including Curt Swan, Dick Giordano and Neal Adams. Shayne was aways my source of hand me-down clothes, toys and even my first computer and guitar. His life was one that made me who I am.

I took some time off to travel from one end of the continent to another, to say my goodbye to Shayne. Having seen him shortly before he passed, I can barely believe even now that he is gone

Main, ngunya bunarm, always, will be in my heart and mind.

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