Mangkaja Perspex Workshops


The Mangkaja Artists of Fitzroy Crossing, already widely regarded for their dynamic artworks and experimentation with new forms and presentation, are bursting on the scene again with radiant new acrylic on Perspex artworks. A first for the Indigenous Australian art industry and about to create a frenzy amongst admirers and collectors alike.

The result of recent workshops, these artworks positively convey the energy and enthusiasm of the artists who enjoyed and successfully adapted to the new medium harnessing it to enhance the luminosity and brushwork of their already bold and vibrant styles.

We asked Belinda Cook, Mangkaja Arts Manager, to tell us more about the recent workshops and outcome:

DRS: How did the workshop come about?

BC: The workshops have been funded by DCA and were a result of some experimentation at the art centre with materials from another workshop.  Emilia Galatis an experienced arts centre industry professional and facilitator came on board to facilitate the development in focused workshops at Mangkaja studio, Gwardi Aged Care and Marnin Studio in Fitzroy Crossing.

DRS: Where did the idea of painting on Perspex come from?

BC: Initially Mangkaja was undertaking a youth mural project that involved large boards being painted and to protect them we purchased large Perspex sheets.  Our studio coordinator, Wes Maselli, had the idea to paint directly onto the sheets, and while it didn’t work for that particular project, Sonia Kurarra, an artist renowned for her passion to paint on all and every medium painted a large work on one of the left over sheets.  Everyone was blown away by the piece and the project developed from there.  

DRS: Apart from Sonia Kurarra, had any of the artists worked on Perspex before the workshop?

BC: The Perspex is a new medium for our artists and from our research new for the Indigenous Australian art industry.  Our artists have been experimenting with board and tin along with the more traditional canvas and paper work, and were excited to trial this medium.

DRS: Which artists have been participating in the workshops?

BC: These first works on Perspex have predominantly been created by our senior women at Mangkaja, although some of our men are starting to take an interest with fantastic results as well. The brush movement the Perspex allows and the luminosity it creates in the paint colours only enhances the vibrant work of the Mangkaja women and their bold styles.  Key artists being exhibited at Short St in the coming show include: Nada Rawlins, Sonia Kurarra, Daisy Japulija, Rosie Uhl, Lisa Uhl, Rosie King Tarku and Jean Rangi.  Other artists experimenting with the medium include Penny K Lyons, Tommy May, John Prince Siddon and Wangkajunga artists Nora Tjookootja and Rosie Goodjie.

DRS: How do the artists find this new medium?

BC: This medium has been embraced by our most senior artists, finding that the brush moves so smoothly on the surface of the Perspex. Not only our senior women but a number of younger artists and artists who have only ever painted on small canvas have tried their hand at painting on Perspex and are enjoying the results.  We are also engaging younger artists in the ideas around jewellery making with this new medium.

DRS: So the artists are going to make other artforms from the Perspex too? Tell us about the jewellery!

BC: Jewellery is the next project and development we are trialling with the assistance of Emilia Galatis (facilitator) and Jessica Jubb, a WA jeweller who has moved to Fitzroy Crossing. With their assistance our artists are exploring ways to create bold jewellery pieces, the first are of course remaining with the artists who will not take them off!   We have some other experimental play with the Perspex in the works we will showcase down the track.

DRS: Tell us more about how working in this medium has encouraged new artists to have a go?

BC: This project has seen the engagement of artists from Marnin Studio at Marninwantikura Women’s centre,  the women there who specialise in boab nut painting have enjoyed experimenting with this new medium and will have some smaller works presented at the short street show, incorporating their fabric and print on paperwork, a first exhibition opportunity for some. The medium has definitely engaged some new artists at Mangkaja and we are thrilled by their enthusiasm and results.

DRS: Which artists seem to be enjoying the workshops the most?

BC: Artist Rosie Uhl has been a surprise participant whose works will feature in the Short St exhibition ‘Mangkaja Water’. She has never before been exhibited and the artworks she is producing are stunning.  Also Lisa Uhl who has not been well enough to paint for a while has really enjoyed this process and is finding the medium much easier to work with given her physical limitations, the results are pretty incredible, she’s back at her best.  Nada Rawlins has actually been selected as a finalist in the NATSIAA’s this year for a large work on Perspex, and previously won the Shinju Art Prize for her first Perspex piece in 2016.

DRS: Is there anything that the artists find challenging about painting on Perspex?

BC: The process of painting onto the Perspex is almost a reverse of that onto canvas, where the first layer is what will be viewed most prominently, this has been a challenge for artists who work with fine detail.  But most artists have taken to it quickly and enjoy the process of discovery. The movement of the paint on the Perspex has meant that layers created by artists are more viewable, with a transparent quality we don’t see in canvas. This has allowed artists whose works have many layers to showcase those in a new way.

DRS: So the process is different to painting on canvas then, tell us more about the techniques and approach?

BC: The medium allows for smoother brush work, it also separates the paint in a new way which highlights layered work and brush texture.  We have incorporated paint pens into the process and the artists are getting some exciting graffiti-esque results. The paint pens are a fabulous addition and have been a great development for some artists who are combining paint pen/graffiti work with their traditional acrylic paint with bold and vibrant outcomes combining pen detail with the finesse of brush work.

DRS: So the artists are being more experimental painting on Perspex?

BC: There is a lot of experimentation and we see this continuing for a while yet, everyone is enjoying themselves and more inspired in their more traditional practices on canvas as well.

DRS: Have artists been depicting different subject matter/stories to the ones they usually paint on canvas?

BC: Subjects and stories in the works are relating very closely to the work most artists produce on canvas, the stories artists paint remain consistent across mediums.  We are finding that the smooth quality of the Perspex and the different application options are giving some artists more mobility to create detail in new ways, different aspects and details of stories they paint are emerging in some artists work.

DRS: What were artists hoping for and looking forward to with this workshop?

BC: Artists have enjoyed being together in focused workshops and having the enthusiastic energy of Emilia Galatis to entertain them. There has been plenty of laughing and dancing as well as fantastic art production, we were all excited to get Emilia back in for a second round of workshops this month.

DRS: How is the second workshop differing from the first?

BC: The first workshop was really an experimental process with the Perspex itself and the results were stunning, artists started to experiment with paint pen in the first round and solid colour backings. This second workshop is seeing a lot more experimentation with paint mediums on the Perspex as the artists are getting more aware of how the Perspex presents. There are some exciting combinations of acrylic and pens and background applications.  We are also looking further into ways to present the works.

DRS: Will the artists continue painting on Perspex?

BC: While artists are enjoying it and we have some great opportunities opening up to show case these works on Perspex we will continue to develop this medium, we have had such great success so far!

DRS: Which artists are going to display new Perspex works at the upcoming Short St Gallery exhibition?

BC: ‘Mangkaja Waters’ opens at Short St Gallery this Thursday 1st June at 6pm in Broome. It includes works by Daisy Japulija, Sonia Kurarra, Rosie Uhl, Lisa Uhl, Nada Rawlins and Jean Rangi, and some smaller works by Phyllis Waye, Eileen Forrest, Aisha Oscar, Amrion Bear and Leanne Williams.

DRS: What has the audience response been to the works so far?

BC: We are getting some fantastic responses from the works produced, the show in Short St is proving very, very popular with many enquiries already.  Plus the Telstra finalist piece for Nada Rawlins and lining up potential shows with our international partners, we are thrilled by the response so far. 


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