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Paddy Bedford

Camel Gap  2004

ochres and pigment on linen

150 × 180 × 2cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Colin and Elizabeth Laverty, 2012


About the Artwork

Camel Gap, by the senior Gija artist and lawman Paddy Bedford, is a story from the artist’s mother’s country that illustrates the shared recent history of Gija and non-Aboriginal people. To Gija people Camel Gap is also known as Gernawarliyan. Its English name refers to the shape of the hill itself and also to the Afghan cameleers who travelled from the port at Wyndham South to remote Kimberley communities and further afield for trade. The site is located south of Martie’s Bore in the East Kimberley in the north of Western Australia. It is connected to an ngarranggarni (Dreamtime) story of the goanna Garndoowoolany who camped out there. Garndoowoolany called out to Marranyi, the dingo, who he saw at the top of the hill. It was here that Marranyi got stuck and became part of the rock.

Bedford painted with a deep sense of cultural responsibility, using stories from his father’s country, or his mother’s and uncle’s country. Camel Gap documents the development of his painting style, which is part of the highly recognisable ‘East Kimberley’ or ‘Turkey Creek’ style that emerged in the late 1970s inspired by the landscape, stories and colours of north Western Australia. Until the time of his passing in 2007, Bedford continued to experiment with form and pictorial convention, combining large expanses of colour and dotted edging more commonly seen in the rounded forms of early pioneers of the Turkey Creek painting style, such as Rover Thomas and Paddy Jaminji, and the fluid lines of Queenie McKenzie. Bedford explored the rich history of his country and the important stories that have mapped its past, painting the bones of the landscape with the waterholes, stockyards and roads that he traversed all his life.

Paddy Bedford

– About the artist

Born c.1922, Bedford Downs Station, East Kimberley, Western Australia. Died 2007, Bedford Downs Station, East Kimberley, Western Australia.

Paddy Bedford was a senior Gija artist and respected lawman. He was known to family, close friends and kin by his traditional name Nyunkuny or his nickname Goowoomji/Kuwumji. Although he painted for ceremony all his life Bedford only began painting for exhibition in 1998 at the invitation of his close friend and fellow artist Freddy Timms, and Tony Oliver, manager of Jirrawun Arts Centre at the time. 

Bedford was represented in Blood on the Spinifex at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne (2002–03), and was one of eight Aboriginal artists commissioned to produce a permanent installation on the ground floor of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in 2006. In 2006 the MCA honoured Bedford with a solo exhibition of more than 50 works that toured nationally to Perth, Bendigo and Brisbane. The exhibition highlighted not only Bedford’s command of painting and the development of this impressive body of work, but also the history of his country and the three significant sites of which he was major custodian: Emu Dreaming, Bush Turkey Dreaming and Cockatoo Dreaming. His first solo exhibition outside Australia, Paddy Bedford: Crossing Frontiers, was held at the AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht, The Netherlands in 2009.

Bedford’s work is held in a number of national and international collections including the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; as well as private collections.

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