DETAIL : Jimmy BAKER 'Katatjita' 2006 synthetic polymer paint on canvas, Courtesy of Marshall Arts Aboriginal Fine Art Gallery, � Jimmy Baker
Judy WATSON | palm cluster

Australia 1959
palm cluster 2007
pigment, pastel, synthetic polymer paint and carbon ink
on canvas
196.0 (h) x 106.0 (w) cm
Purchased 2007
NGA 2007.201
© Judy Watson. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

The title of a solo exhibition held in Brisbane in early 2007, ‘a complicated fall’, refers to the comment by the state coroner, who referred to Mulrundji Doomagee’s death on Palm Island as being caused by ‘a complicated fall’. This was a surprising finding considering the physical damage [‘four broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and a liver almost split in half’] that the man had suffered during his ordeal in the Palm Island jail. ‘A complicated fall’ could also refer to a fall from grace, a fall of government, etc. Other works in the exhibition referred more specifically to recent events on Palm Island and or used familiar motifs within my body of work (e.g. shells, ribs, plants and maps). While I was making many of the works in this exhibition I was listening to ABC Radio National. At this time there were many news updates about events on Palm Island. Part of my response to this was an internal grieving that I was aware of when I was pushing and scrubbing the raw pigments into the canvas.

Blue is the colour of memory and associated with water, washing over me. Waanyi people are known as ‘running water people’ because of the inherent quality of the water in their country. The deep blues of the background of the canvas are made by scrubbing the intense Prussian (dark) blue and ultramarine (purplish) blue pigments onto the material using a stiff brush.

The white circular forms are constellation-like, pin points of light that suggest movement and shifting focal points within the image. I first used these round forms in 1993, during an artists camp in Norway in a glacial valley where I played with points of light on a rock using a mirror. Then I made an installation of glacial mud nests within an ampitheatre of rocks. For the Venice Biennale in 1997 they morphed into bronze stones. They often appear as points of light or dark within other works on canvas.

The white outline at the top of the canvas is suggestive of a stingray. When I visited Palm Island in the mid 1980s I remember wading through shallow water around a bay in which there were masses of stingrays. It was an unnerving experience: hoping they would swim by you without stinging you with their tail. As Tony Albert from Queensland Art Gallery has noted, since Steve Irwin’s death from a large stingray barb through the heart, an image of a stingray will carry other memories.

The shape at the bottom of the form is a map of the main island of the Palm group (or cluster of islands). It has the major roads marked on it but the white dotted shapes along the edge suggest the sparkling of light on the water and beaches fringing its coastline. Physically it is a paradise but it carries a heavy history.

Judy Watson, 2007