A display of Aboriginal artworks showing a spiritual and cultural connection to the land was launched to high praise at the inaugural art exhibition by Koori Colours Art Gallery on Friday, 26 February.
Artists, Jason Russell and Alex Nixon unveiled over 30 unique paintings at the wine-and-cheese night held at Wattagan Winery, hosted by Kez Russell and with Uncle Casey Dowd performing the Welcome to Country.
Drawing on their Aboriginal heritage for the “Connection to Country” exhibition, Jason and Alex produced artworks full of symbolism relevant to their personal backgrounds.
Under the mentorship of Jason, Alex, a Coonabarabran local, incorporated his connection to Burra Bee Dee and his Kamilaroi tribe into his paintings.
“Alex has come a long way with his painting,” Jason said.
“He is involved in the Orana Arts’ Left Field Project 2, in Dubbo, which supports emerging Aboriginal artists.
“Alex is currently working on a major project that will be displayed in Dubbo, and then to the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre - with the possibility it may be taken to Dubai!”
Jason, who hails from the Newcastle - Port Stephens area and is from the Worimi tribe, said he was heavily influenced by Aboriginal symbols and meaning in his art.
“I describe my work as modern day- contemporary Aboriginal art,” Jason said.
“I’m a salt-water man, that’s why some of my paintings feature dolphins and middens.
“My background is in Aboriginal tattooing and my drawings of tattoo designs led me to transfer this to paintings.”
Jason and Kez Russell first came Coonabarabran on what was meant to be a short visit in 2013, while on a working road-trip over the January school holidays.
“We arrived here two days before the Wambelong bushfire and were blown away at how everyone in the community rallied around for each other,” Kez said.
“We were booked in for four days, but ended up staying for 14! Something about this town just drew us in.”
Feeling a special connection to Coonabarabran, Jason and Kez finished their trip and shortly after relocated their family to the area.
“On our first day here, Casey Dowd welcomed us and the Elders also welcomed us with open arms,” Jason said.
“When we came here I realised the youth of the town needed a bit of a hand, so I started some programs to keep them off the streets, out of trouble and to teach them their culture and identity, so they don’t feel so lost.
“I ask the kids to study their heritage - to go back and ask their aunties and uncles their stories. This gives them their identity; it is their story, and connects them to their culture. I find once they establish their identity, they are less likely to lash out.”
Jason has been involved in art programs with local schools, and with Coonabarabran Police and the Aboriginal Land Council on the Burra Bee Dee Project, aimed at breaking down barriers between children identified “at risk” and local police.
During the program, Jason, with assistance from Alex and school students from the three Coonabarabran schools, produced a painting that symbolised Aboriginal people and police coming together to learn respect.
“One panel was presented to Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, the second went to the NSW Police Commissioner, and the third to the Coonabarabran Police Station,” Jason said.
Jason recently set up a private studio in Coonabarabran, where he devotes his time to his artwork and the mentorship of several young artists.
“The kids paint their story - it is their strength,” he said.
“Art can change all walks of life. It can be a hard slog, but it is doable, and that is what I want our local youth to realise. That through embracing your heritage, getting an education, and taking full advantage of any opportunities offered, a whole new world can be opened up.
“I turned to my art and culture when times were bad, which gave me identity and purpose - and it saved me!
“The people of Coonabarabran were amazing in their support of the “Connections to Country” art exhibition - and not just the Koori side, everyone has been so supportive and for this I thank them.”
Artists Alex Nixon and Jason Russell with some of their work at the “Connection to Country” art exhibition on Friday night. Photo - Nicole Devenish @ Francis Aloysius Photography - 0419 697 170, firstname.lastname@example.org.