IAN ABDULLA: Marree Suite and other paintings



5 – 30 Apr 2006


Don’t ya just love looking at the drawings of Ian Abdulla
Exhibition text by Stephen Fox, June 2006  

Don’t you just love looking at the drawings of committed Artists especially those done by the likes of Ian Abdulla. These are not the agonised images of some poor tortured soul overburdened by the theory of Contemporary Art labouring to get it right.

These are drawings reflecting the memories of someone who has lived as hard as it may have been a wondrous life. The freedom and simplicity of his line is testament to the lives of Aboriginal people living in communities along the banks of the Murray during the late fifties and beyond. Sure there were restrictions and life was tough but look at that small drawing with a shelter, two lines in the river and two friends standing by a fire. It’s drawn by someone who knew how to survive, who knew all you needed was a line, a hook and a sinker and you had a feed, what else do you need to show to finish such a drawing.

Sure there would have been times when things just didn’t go right, when you got that flat tyre between Waikerie and Blanchetown and you just don’t have the spare on you to move quickly on your way. So while all that flash mob go roaring by, lights on high beam in the dark of the night your mates gather firewood in a nearby paddock to warm them selves while you ponder the next move. To most this would be a memory not worthy of mention but to Ian it was a night to remember, one deserving of a quick sketch before the memory was lost, worthy of documentation for an idea to base a painting on in the near future.

Ian would often discuss stories for painting with his mate Paul Greenaway of Greenaway Art Gallery in Adelaide, not really for confirmation, just a little reassurance that this was OK, worthy of a painting, yet another tale to tell. Drawings were then ascribed to Paul or ‘Nutty’ at Niagara in Melbourne with their names noted on the paper.

The detail in Ian’s drawings are kept to a minimum, enough to tell the story, enough to give us a clear picture of what it was like on that very day their clarity and sparseness a reflection of a life less complicated. But there is always detail there, small, as they are detail worthy of remembering enough to make the story complete. Even the glance of a friend over the vines as you work is remembered, the progress of the picking shown by the empty trellis, more work to come by the sight of laden branches, the small tractor with its trailer picking up the full buckets and the hoist getting the load ready for the co-op. The birds always floating in the sky like the stars in the night sky for Ian they make the picture complete.

Some of Ian’s paintings become dyptich, two paintings to represent the difference between day and night often used to explain the time of day and how hard it was to get food for the family. One drawing probably a forerunner of such work becomes an exquisite narrative of such a day but here all compressed into one sheet of paper. There is no illusion here that it was a full day’s labour just to maintain food on the table, now Ian’s labour is getting the story right, getting those words right, it’s something you don’t see in Ian’s paintings, this scratching out of words before it takes it’s place in the public eye, getting it right is something Ian likes to do, putting out a good image, myself I enjoy seeing the working out, the getting things right.

It’s like a short film, set in two frames, the clear sky of an early morning, the young brothers shoulders laden with traps ready to be set for a days catch, returning home at night the boys shoulders draped with the days catch as the sun sets and the sky is a blaze of colour. Again a drawing full of the simplest detail giving us a very real feel for the grassy back waters of the Murray, you know this Artist has as much love for his country as he has for his Mothers dumplings that would end up in the soup with the rabbits from their days catch.

This is what I love about Ian’s drawings, as much the image, the story not always written on the drawings, not always needed but when it’s there it fills the gaps, it gives us detail to explain these moments of pleasure in everyday events. It let’s us share Ian’s memories, I hear he doesn’t find the need these days to do such drawings but I’m glad there was a time he found it necessary, they are images I delight in, simple uncomplicated raw pleasure, I like that.

Stephen Fox
June 2006