DOB: c.1922 - 8 Feb 2013
Born: Imanji (Mt House Station), Kimberleys, WA
LANGUAGE GROUP: Ngarinyin
COMMUNITY: Derby, WA
The Kimberley is a unique and special part of Australia and considered to be one of the most remote, wild and beautiful regions on earth. The dramatic, stunning landscape continues to seduce and tantalise visitors and is fast becoming a popular tourist destination. Despite the sheer beauty of this untouched region, there lies a dark and violent history of colonial contact that is still within living memory of a depleting number of elders, with tangible evidence of the conflict and brutality still marked within the landscape.
Jack Dale was one of the last remaining Kimberley elders whose life is Kimberley history personified. His life story has been recorded by historians and academics, and for 15 years he used painting as a method to tell his story from his own unique perspective and aesthetic.
Records recently obtained from Births, Deaths and Marriages confirms that Jack was born between 1920 and 1922, placing him in his nineties when he sadly passed away in 2013. He was born in the bush at Mt House Station (Imanji country). His mother was a Ngarinyin woman and his father was a hard-living and brutal Scottish frontiersman. His father once shot Jack in the leg to stop him from 'running away'. Naturally, his mother tried to keep him away from his violent white father.
When his father passed away, Jack's Aboriginal grandfather took him under his wing, teaching him Narrungunni law and protecting him from the prevailing social attitudes towards 'mixed blood' children. During this time Jack saw many things that would later be the subjects of his paintings; hiding in the bush as police patrols forcibly took Aboriginal children from their families, watching chain gangs of Aboriginal men being marched away to the Prison Tree, and the arrival of the Afghan camel drivers.
Jack went on to live a remarkable life that bridged two cultures. For most of his life, he worked as a stockman and was greatly revered as a skilful, tough and uncompromising man who was never 'thrown from a horse or defeated by a beast'. He was also a respected Aboriginal elder and lawman and was considered one of the last of a generation of old men who possess a complete knowledge of the rituals, law and culture of his people. He was a vital link to the past and still is to this day through his art.
Jack began to paint in the 1990's with rigour and excitement. In his later years he was forced to retire from painting following a spate of heart attacks which placed him in serious danger and saw him admitted to a home. The resilient man that he was, before he passed away, he did begin to visit the studio again to follow his painting career with a vengeance - and as much enthusiasm as he had in the 90's. His story truly is remarkable.
Jack produced large ceremonial boards used by traditional dancers to re-enact dreaming stories. He also used his extensive cultural knowledge to record aspects of the Wandjina dreaming sites of his people.
The Wandjina is an iconic powerful spirit man of the Kimberley, who forms clouds, rain and the landscape, and who, in Jack's paintings, is distinguishable by its large circular eyes, round head and halo formation. The eyes are most arresting eyes and entice the viewer in to the work. Jack managed to capture the power and strength of the Wandjina with the use of strong lines and dots which give the artworks a pulsating energy.
He used large blocks of colour outlined with dots, which is synonymous with the Kimberley region, and then would add figurative motifs of boab trees, horses, aeroplanes and people to tell his story. Whilst originally painting in natural ochre, Jack's later works were painted with Acrylics which allowed him to use vibrant hues, including blues, reds and yellows.
While the subject matter of his artworks was at times grim, and to the western eye, the Wandjinas may seem confronting, the spirit and energy of his naive style works overcome this initial response.
Despite all, there is an enchanting and buoyant spirit in his art (as there was in this resilient man). The stories behind each of his works add an extra dimension to Jack's paintings and when understood, add to the fascination of these paintings. They are a unique and often humorous record of a long life lived deep within traditional Aboriginal law and yet also in the dangerous 'whitefella' world at the frontier of Kimberley life. These paintings raise your interest and beg to be talked about and considered. They are indeed a doorway to a greater understanding of Australia's history, a fact that makes his artworks highly collectible and the basis for great dinner party discussions.
Jack Dale was and remains an important and significant man as he is part of the history of the Kimberley region and its Indigenous people. Interest in his work has increased exponentially through his many solo exhibitions. His art can be seen as important historical and cultural documents, which could equally hang in a fine art gallery or a museum, where their anthropological value is outstanding, providing authentic, first-hand information regarding Australia's history.
Copyright Kate Owen Gallery 20 August 2020. Updated 3 September 2020
- Australian War Memorial, Canberra
- National Museum of Australia, Canberra
- Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
- National Parliament Collection, Canberra
- Fondation Burkhardt-Felder Arts et Culture, Moitiers, Switzerland
Awards and Recognition
2019 Jack Dale's artowork featuring in: For Country for Nation, Australian War Memorial Touring Exhibition, Canberra
2012 Jack Dale ranked 66th in The Australian Indigenous Art Market Top 100 (AIAM100)
2011 A selection of Jack's artworks was featured in the Indigenous Law Bulletin November / December 2011 Volume 7 Issue 27
Selected Solo Exhibitions:
2021 Life at the Frontier, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2019 Cup of Tea, Biscuits and Old Mates, Art Mob, Hobart
2015 A window to a hidden past: Jack Dale, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2013 Jack Dale, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2011 Jack Dale Mengenen, Japingka Gallery, Perth
2006 Jack Dale - A Kimberley History, Japingka Gallery, Perth
2006 Jack Dale, Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney
2006 Jack Dale, Framed Gallery, Darwin
2004 Jack Dale - Narrungunni Dreamplaces, Japingka Gallery, Perth
2004 Jack Dale, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne
2003 Jack Dale, Kintolai Gallery, Adelaide
2002 Jack Dale - Kimberley History, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne
2001 Jack Dale - Djumba Ceremonies, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne
2000 Jack Dale | Senior Law Man, Flinders Lane Gallery, Melbourne
Selected Group Exhibitions:
2019 Lunar Legacy, ArtMob, Hobart
2019 Defining Tradition | the colourists, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2019 Grounded in Truth: Walk Together with Courage Reconciliation Week at Art Mob, Hobart
2017 Gems of the Stockroom, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2017 Biddy and Jack Dale Mengenen, ArtMob, Hobart
2012 Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2007 Kimberley Personified - Jack Dale, ArtMob, Hobart
2007 The Stockman & the Medicine Man: Jack Dale & Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri, Japingka Gallery, Perth
2006 Framed - The Darwin Gallery, Darwin
2006 Japingka Gallery, Perth
2006 Jack Dale - Jalala Marking Stones for Wandjina , Coo-ee Aboriginal Art, Sydney
2006 The Darwin Gallery, Darwin
2006 Japingka Gallery, Perth
2006 Coo-ee Gallery. Sydney
2004 Tineriba Gallery, Hahndorf, SA
2003 Burrinja Gallery, Melbourne
2002 Michel Sourgnes Fine Arts, Brisbane
2002 Burrinja Gallery, Melbourne
2002 Art Mob, Hobart
2001 Wandjina, Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney
2001 Kimberley Works, Burrinja Gallery, Melbourne