John Prince Siddon is a Walmajarri man who lives in the remote township of Fitzroy Crossing in the West Kimberley. Prince’s psychedelic surrealist paintings bring some of the most urgent themes of our time into piercing view. His ironic combination of Australian narratives, current affairs and ancestral creation stories articulate some of the complexities of the present-day Australian experience.
Prince challenges traditional notions of Indigenous painting. Combining diverse influences drawn from television, the traditional Kimberley craft of boab nut carving, desert iconography and the epic characters of Narrangkarni (Dreamtime), he creates a ground breaking style of painting and sculpture that is eclectic, gothic and psychedelic. His vibrant paintings, 3D printed, painted bull skulls and kangaroo hides explore his Country and history. They engage with issues of national and global significance, from the recent floods, endangered species, destruction of Indigenous landmarks and global warming to the war in Ukraine, gun control and the shortcomings of our politicians.
“Many of our old people painted their lives, their own land, even animals. Well, I’m trying to do the same thing, to piece together every animal – North, South, East, West – trying to mix them up like a jigsaw – they love each other they hate each other. Landscape, dreamtime stories, kid’s paintings, poetry, animals; put them all together, it’s all the same with my paintings. It’s called mixed up – I really don’t know how to translate it in words, but I can in my art … I’m doing it my way to make you understand the meaning of what I have painted. And I’ll be the first artist who has ever done this before. I have been gathering information from watching the news on TV” - John Prince Siddon
As Prince paints, the TV hums beside him telling stories of heroes and heartache. The work in this collection recalls a treacherous year where fires and floods affected us at home and war broke out in Europe. His crowded compositions construct a myriad of strange creatures, twisted landscapes and ironic text. Indigenous Dreaming characters swirl amongst images of people and animals who have lost homes, drowning cattle, endangered reefs and cultural habitats. There are abandoned babies, redback spiders and misguided politicians, all mixed up with local emergency service heroes, helicopter pilots, wildlife rescue services and Ukrainian soldiers.
Originally from the Great Sandy Desert, Walmajarri people were displaced and relocated through systems of colonisation. John Prince Siddon is a Walmajarri man and like many men from the Kimberley, spent his early years working on cattle stations. His father, Pompey Siddon, was one of the founding members of the Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency.
Prince is part of a long tradition of Kimberley men who see truth telling and communicating their personal history and lived experiences as a matter of urgency. These paintings challenge conservative ideas of Indigenous painting; disrupting our notions of Australian contemporary art.
Creating links between space, time and history, ‘My painting is my voice’ is a humourous and incisive commentary on the political and social issues of today, taking a critical look at where we are and where we have been.
John Prince Siddon has been a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) at the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory (2021, 2020, 2019, 2018). He was also a featured artist at the Tarnanthi 2021 festival at the Art Gallery of South Australia. His solo exhibition ‘All Mixed Up’ at the Fremantle Arts Centre, presented in conjunction with the Perth Festival 2020, was heralded as the ‘stand-out exhibition’ of the festival by John McDonald of the Sydney Morning Herald. His works are included in the collections of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia and Artbank.
Mangkaja Arts is a non-profit, Indigenous owned and governed centre in the West Kimberley regions of Western Australia. They are innovators, as well as artistic and cultural leaders. Mangkaja Arts presented works as part of The National 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. They also collaborated with Gorman on a collection that same year.
Arthouse Gallery is delighted to present this exhibition in collaboration with Mangkaja Arts. We also acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the Traditional Owners of the land on which this exhibition takes place.